Falls from elevated heights happen to construction workers employed on and around construction sites. These workplace injuries aren’t covered solely by the Workers’ Compensation rules. Although residents and those passing by a construction site are not eligible for the automatic strict liability coverage available to workers, they receive indirect protection from the fall prevention measures implemented under New York law.
Heights are dangerous – however, workers frequently work in elevated environments. Even if no scaffolding is involved, workers doing tasks high on a building are at significant risk of injury. Falls from such a height can lead to catastrophic, life-changing injuries or even death. In such cases, working with an experienced construction site injury lawyer is the best way to navigate the maze of laws covering such injuries.
Unlike most states, New York does not treat construction site falls like ordinary Workers’ Compensation claims. Instead, New York treats these accidents under its Scaffolding Law. Under the Scaffolding Law, in any worksite accident involving a fall from a height or, in essence, gravity, the employers, those who award contracts, and property owners can be held strictly liable for any resulting injury. New York is the only state that imposes this strict liability standard on falls from elevated heights.
The Scaffolding Law offers its protections to workers on Long Island construction sites where experienced local Long Island construction accident lawyers can help workers injured in falls on construction sites or their surviving family members recover the full extent of their damages. Working with knowledgeable counsel can be critical to recovering the damages to which the worker or survivors may be entitled.
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What Is New York Labor Law § 240, the Scaffolding Law?
The Scaffolding Law requires that scaffolding be “so constructed, placed, and operated as to give proper protection to a person employed on construction sites where someone might fall.” New York’s courts have broadly construed these statements as creating requirements in various situations. For any accidental fall from a height subject to this law, the court can hold the primary contractor, project owner, or property owner strictly liable for any injuries resulting from the fall.
The Scaffolding Law is challenging to read, but in essence, it says:
- All construction workers are entitled to protection from falls and falling hazards.
- Construction is broadly defined to include:
- Erecting equipment
- All contractors, owners, and their agents are liable for injuries resulting from falls from a height.
- Failure to prevent a fall or falling hazard is defined as a breach of the duty of care, meaning the plaintiff does not have to prove negligence.
In other words, a worker just has to prove they fell and suffered an injury.
How Scaffolding Law Affects an Injury Claim
The primary impact of the Scaffolding Law is that, as interpreted by York New courts, it imposes strict liability on those who put together a construction project or own the property it happens on. This strict liability standard is critical because it can be challenging to sue these parties under any circumstances. In an ordinary negligence case, the worker has to prove duty, a breach of duty, and foreseeability of the incident that caused the injury. The Scaffolding Law does not require such proof.
Can a Falling Worker Still File for Workers’ Compensation?
Yes, workers’ compensation is an entirely different matter, and workers injured in a fall may still file for it. However, under the Scaffolding Law, the worker may recover more damages than under workers’ compensation. For example, a workers’ compensation claim won’t usually cover pain and suffering, but workers can recover pain and suffering under the Scaffolding Law.
Workers’ compensation also does not always pay the total amount of a worker’s damages, including medical treatment and lost wages. A third-party claim against a non-employer under the Scaffold Law can give you access to more insurance resources through the third party and make it more likely that you will make a complete financial recovery.
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What Does It Mean to be Strictly Liable?
Technically, anyone suing for a fall under the Scaffolding Law has to prove they fell due to some violation of the Scaffolding Law. If any evidence shows the scaffolding did violate the law, the part of the owner or other relevant party will owe restitution. Under the Scaffolding Law, there is no defense arising from that the worker may have been partially liable.
However, if the worker was the sole proximate cause of the falling accident because of expressly ignoring safety instructions or refusing safety devices, the law will weigh on the employer’s side. In other words, a construction worker cannot refuse to wear a safety belt and then complain about being injured in a fall.
What Are Common Falling Hazards:
Falls from a height subject to § 240 often happen when the scaffolding is dangerous, including:
- Missing rails, planks, or toe boards
- Uneven footings
- Slippery surfaces
- Falling objects from an elevated height
- Improper access to the platform
- Failing to secure a platform properly
- Missing platform bases or braces
- Improper maintenance
- Overloaded scaffolding
- Debris on scaffolding
- Building scaffolding too close to electrical lines
- Poor worker training
- Inadequate access to or use of safety equipment
- Failure to protect workers from falling objects
- Owners/Operators failing to comply with scaffolding rules
What Are Common Falls and Accidents Subject to § 240?
Various incidents commonly occur on and around scaffolding in Long Island work sites.
Some of these common accidents include:
- Falling off the scaffolding – Falling from scaffolding usually results in severe injuries, depending on the height from which the worker falls. These falls can lead to catastrophic injuries and also increase the likelihood of a fatality. Construction site owners and operators must provide safety equipment and safe scaffolding to prevent such falls.
- Objects falling off the scaffolding – Workers on scaffolding carry tools, supplies, and other objects while they are working on a platform. If workers do not adequately secure these loads, something can fall onto workers below. The injuries can be severe depending on where and how the worker is hit and from what height. Objects striking a worker in the head can lead to skull fractures and traumatic brain injury.
- Slip and fall accidents – Because scaffolding is almost always outside and therefore subject to the vagaries of the weather, slip and fall accidents are common. With ice, snow, and rain, the wooden or metal platforms of the scaffolding become dangerously slippery. Workers can slip and fall on the platform or off the platform, resulting in injury.
What Are Common Injuries from a Construction Site Fall?
Most of the injuries on construction sites result from falls from a height or falling objects; the law talks about whether the injuries relate to gravity.
Some of these common gravity-related injuries are:
- Crush and Compression Injuries – Crush injuries from a scaffold fall can cause broken bones, severe contusions, and even head injuries like skull fractures. Breaks can be so severe as to require surgeries or even amputations.
- Traumatic Brain Injuries – Traumatic brain injuries are common on construction sites because of the likelihood of workers hitting their head in a fall from a height or being hit on the head by a falling object. Even seemingly mild brain trauma can result in potentially fatal complications. Remember, the doctor’s mild TBI designation relates only to the initial presentation of symptoms and not to the worker’s overall prognosis. TBIs that medical professionals deem mild can still be severe injuries resulting in severe and lasting effects and complications. Workers diagnosed with any TBI should watch for any symptoms or lingering effects. These injuries can cause loss of sight or hearing, difficulty with speech, and even loss of the ability to function from day to day.
- Internal Injuries and Bleeding – Falls from a height can cause severe damage to internal organs and result in internal bleeding. Both of these can be difficult to detect initially, and if not treated promptly, internal bleeding can even be fatal. Bleeding inside the head is particularly dangerous, especially if accompanied by swelling of the brain. The pressure needs to be alleviated immediately.
- Neck and Back Injuries – Neck and back injuries may damage the spinal cord, so it’s best to wait for medical personnel before moving the injured party if a neck or back injury is suspected. Of course, if it’s more dangerous to leave the victim where they are, bystanders should move them. Spinal damage can lead to chronic pain, loss of mobility or sensation, and temporary or permanent paralysis. The extent of such paralysis will depend on the location of the injury on the spine.
- Emotional and Psychological Trauma – Workers badly injured in a fall from a height may also suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome and other emotional and psychological disorders. These are not necessarily debilitating, but they can be severe enough to prevent the worker from returning to construction work.
Ways to Avoid Falls From a Height
Construction site workers should take care to protect themselves on the worksite. These sites are dangerous, and something as simple as a dropped tool can result in a severe injury.
Follow these simple procedures:
- Always wear a hardhat in any construction site area, including when on or around scaffolding.
- Be sure to set up scaffolds as designed. Do not take shortcuts and inspect each scaffold.
- If scaffolds are slippery for some reason, do not use them until someone has properly cleaned the platform and any debris or foreign substances removed. Falls can easily result from slippery surfaces.
- Don’t leave loose objects, such as tools, ladders, or boxes, on scaffolds because these can tip or fall and create a dangerous situation. They also create tripping hazards that can lead to falls.
- Use mounted ladders and make sure to follow all safety instructions.
- Don’t take shortcuts on your scaffold or when climbing on a scaffold; stick to designated means of access.
- Maintain awareness of your surroundings and other workers when working on or near a scaffold or other high surfaces.
- Report any potential safety violations or concerns—it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Even though no one has to prove negligence in the case of a fall involving the Scaffolding Law, the most common cause of most falls is someone’s carelessness. Follow these steps to keep yourself and others safe from potential scaffolding accidents and injuries.
Whose Falls Do the Scaffolding Law Cover?
Any worker involved in erecting, demolishing, repairing, altering, etc., a building or structure in New York who falls from a height or gets struck by someone or something falling from a height will have coverage under the Scaffolding Law.
Generally, pedestrians walking past the construction site and individuals living or working in the building where work is happening are not eligible for coverage under the Scaffolding Law. However, the safety precautions under the law benefit residents and building workers, reducing the likelihood of their getting injured in a gravity-related accident. Further, a non-worker injured in a construction accident may have a negligence claim not covered by the Scaffolding Law.
How Can a New York Scaffolding Law Attorney Help?
Falls from a height on a construction site under the New York Scaffolding Law are different from those covered only by workers’ compensation and from typical personal injury cases. A worker suing under the Scaffolding Law does not face the damage limitations of workers’ compensation and does not have to prove negligence as in a personal injury case.
Section 240 has complicated requirements, and a victim of a worksite fall must comply with them precisely to recover damages. First, the fallen victim must have been working on the structure meeting the Scaffolding Law’s definition of a building.
The definition is broad and encompasses things like bridges, tunnels, and garages, but anyone claiming under § 240 needs to know it. Further, the victim must have been a worker on the site. Again, given the subtleties of the Scaffolding Law, using a Long Island fall attorney will make your recovery far more manageable.
Contact Rosenberg & Gluck, LLP or (631) 451-7900 to schedule a free initial consultation with our experienced lawyers. Find out if you have grounds for a lawsuit to recover damages for the harm you suffered.