Press-Republican

February 15, 2013

Editorial: Put rationality into building law

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Press-Republican

---- — New York state has a very powerful tide to counter as it battles for competitive prosperity.

It has more and higher taxes and fees than any state, we are told again and again, so how do you persuade a company to come here when the company realizes its profits will be seized by the government trying to win its heart?

You could argue over whether all of these taxes and fees are necessary. But, even if you’re inclined to defend our tax structure, sometimes an antiquated law comes to the public’s attention that seems completely irrational.

Here’s one: New York Labor Law sections 240 and 241, commonly called the Scaffold Law, hold employers, contractors and property owners liable for all “elevation-related” injuries. Contractors, employers and property owners are automatically fully liable for all workers’ injuries, even if a worker’s own negligence caused the injury. Or if the worker was intoxicated and got injured as a result.

The law was originally put into the books in 1885. Apparently, there was a need for it then, though what that need would have been remains elusive.

Between then and 1995, every state erased that errant piece of legislation, except Illinois and, of course, New York. That year, Illinois came to its senses, leaving New York as the lone holdout.

The result is higher costs for liability insurance and another economic disincentive for investment and job growth in New York. These costs further weigh down the state as it tries to help businesses achieve a healthy bottom line and give companies another reason to establish a presence here.

By all means, make contractors responsible for doing everything reasonable to provide a safe working climate for their employees. But, when the employees defy good sense and common practice, resulting in costly injury or even death, why should the employer be held liable?

As the Scaffold Law stands at this moment, in a lawsuit, the contractor, employer or property owner is automatically fully at fault, even if the worker was grossly negligent. Ignoring every fundamental of justice, the defendants have virtually no opportunity to defend themselves in court.

New legislation would adopt a comparative negligence standard, giving employers equal access to the courts and reducing costs to small businesses, farms, manufacturers, municipalities, school districts and, significantly, taxpayers. Insurance costs would immediately go down, say proponents of the change.

The bills are No. 6861 in the Senate and No. 2835 in the Assembly.

Tell your representatives you want to see this archaic provision stricken from the Scaffold Law at once.

New York has a hard enough time overcoming its mountainous tax structure. It doesn’t need to compound that with pure stupidity.