Letter To The Editor: NY homeowners may be liable for worker injuries

Dear Editor:

One notable omission in David Lesch’s recent column (RENOVATING? HOMEOWNERS MAY BE RESPONSIBLE FOR INJURED WORKERS, 2/21/16) is that New York is the only state in the nation where you, as a homeowner may be held liable for injuries during renovations.


The law cited by Mr. Lesch, Labor Law 240, is also known as the Scaffold Law, and it holds property owners and contractors absolutely liable for injuries even if, in the words of the court, the defendant had “nothing to do with the plaintiff’s accident.” Any contributing fault by the worker is irrelevant. To quote Mr. Lesch, “you wouldn’t think it’s possible, but it is.”


Why is New York the only state to impose liability on people who are not responsible for an accident? Trial lawyers who profit from the law argue that the Labor Law 240 keeps workers safe. But the data shows otherwise. Analysis from researchers at Cornell University found that the presence of the law actually increases injuries by an estimated 677 injuries per year.


In addition to increasing the number of injuries in New York, Labor Law 240 adds astronomical costs to every construction project in New York, not just home renovations. The New York State Builders’ Association estimates that the law adds about $10,000 to the cost of every new home built in New York. On public construction, like roads and bridges, the costs are even higher. A study from Rockefeller Institute of Government found that law costs the state $785m annually in additional infrastructure costs.


How is it possible that New York has a law on the books that costs billions and causes injuries? The short answer is the political power of the trial lawyers as the Scaffold Law leaves little to no defense, trial lawyers have been making quick and easy millions on this law for centuries. The trial lawyers then take those profits and drop millions on lobbyists and into the campaign accounts of Albany politicians. It’s no wonder that when asked last year about reforming this law, Governor Cuomo responded, “the trial lawyers are the single most powerful political force in Albany.”


We need to fix this. We need Albany to employ a standard of comparative negligence, where liability is proportional to fault, just as is done in every other state in the nation and in every other part of our civil justice system. If we do, we will lower the costs of construction in New York, improve construction safety, and ensure that people are not held liable for injuries for which they are not responsible.


While I applaud Mr. Lesch for warning homeowners of the legal risks they may face, the truth is that those risks only exist in New York, and should not exist at all. While the law may hold you liable, it is Albany’s corruption that holds you prisoner to the trial lawyer’s agenda.


Thomas B. Stebbins

Executive Director

Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York  

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