Construction Accidents and the Scaffold Law

Construction sites are dangerous places.  This is particularly true for construction workers who work on roofs, bridges, ladders, scaffolds or other elevated areas where there is a high risk of falling.  Because injuries resulting from falls on construction sites can be so devastating, New York State carved out special provisions in the Labor Law that allow construction workers to sue either the general contractor or property owner for injuries they sustain in certain kinds of construction accidents.  As experienced construction accident attorneys in Rochester NY, we will discuss in this post two of those provisions: Labor Law §240(1) (aka “the scaffold law”) and §241(6).

Workers’ Compensation vs. Third-Party Lawsuits

When construction workers are hurt on the job they typically can file a workers’ compensation action.  Workers’ Compensation is a special kind of insurance carried by employers to help cover the medical and lost wage expenses incurred by injured employees.  This means that if you are a construction worker, and you get hurt on-the-job, workers’ compensation will pay for all of the medical care associated with your injury and it will cover a portion of your lost wages while you are disabled from work.  A workers’ compensation action is different from a third-party lawsuit.  Workers’ compensation is something injured workers are generally entitled to, not something they usually need to sue in a court of law to receive.

A third-party lawsuit is a different animal.   In addition to your medical expenses and lost wages, you might have other kinds of damages resulting from your on-the-job accident.  “Damages,” in the legal sense, are things you lost because someone else is responsible for your harm.  For instance, workers’ compensation doesn’t pay 100% of your lost wages, so you would lose some of your average weekly wage while you are out on disability; these are called “past lost wages.”  Your injuries may be so severe that you can never return to your previous occupation, which means you might have “future lost wages,” which are wages you would have earned in the future if you hadn’t been injured.  You may have pain and suffering, which workers’ compensation can’t reimburse you for.  Your spouse or children may have “derivative claims,” which are claims they can make in court for loss of your services or companionship while you are disabled.  All these damages are things you’d have to bring a lawsuit to collect.  But remember, in New York you can’t sue your employer, so in order to bring a lawsuit for a construction site accident there must be some “third party” to sue.

A third-party is someone other than your employer or co-worker who might be responsible for your injury.  More often than not, in a construction site accident, this would be the general contractor or the property owner (unless the property you were working on is a single family dwelling).  Under the Labor Law, one or both of these parties could potentially be responsible for your injury if they didn’t direct or control your work in some way.  So for instance, say an electrician is hired by a general contractor to work on a commercial building.  While installing overhead lights the electrician falls off a ladder that gives way underneath him, causing him to break his ankle.  In this situation, the electrician could collect workers’ compensation his employer’s workers’ compensation insurer to pay for medical expenses and lost wages, but he could also file a third-party lawsuit against the general contractor and/or the owner of the commercial property for violation of the Labor Law.

Types of Labor Law Suits

There are two main provisions of the labor law under which you might bring a lawsuit for a construction site accident: sections 240(1) and 241(6).  Labor Law §240(1) is sometimes called “the scaffold law.”  This provision allows a worker to sue a third party for injuries he or she suffered while either, a) falling from a height, or b) having something fall from a height onto them.  In the example above, involving the electrician on the ladder, he might have a suit under Labor Law §240(1) because he fell from a height.  Another example of a Labor Law §240(1) injury might be if the electrician had been standing beneath a light and the light fell upon him from the ceiling.

Labor Law §241(6) is a provision that allows workers to sue a third party if there was some violation of a safety regulation.  In the above example of the electrician on the ladder, he might have a labor law §241(6) claim if something was wrong with the ladder; for instance, if it wasn’t set properly on the ground, or if it was too short for the job, or if it was broken in some way.

It is important that you speak to a lawyer to make sure you are getting all you are entitled to after suffering an injury on a construction site.  At Segar & Sciortino we have years of experience handling cases involving both a workers’ compensation claim and a third-party lawsuit.  If you’ve been hurt on-the-job, give us a call today, or fill out our form to have an attorney contact you.