Scaffold law in state needs reform

As state Gov. Andrew Cuomo crosses the state touting the third on-time budget of his administration, New York’s municipalities and schools continue to struggle to make their own budgets work. One critical cost for our public institutions is the cost of lawsuits and litigation, recently reported by the Rockefeller College at the University of Albany to cost municipalities over a billion dollars a year.

Gov. Cuomo could relieve this burden by championing reform of a law that exists only in the state of New York. That law is Labor Law 240, also known as the “Scaffold Law,” which imposes absolute liability on contractors and property owners for injuries, even if they were not primarily at fault.

The net effect of the Scaffold Law is to encourage multi-million dollar lawsuits that may not even be valid in any of the other 49 states. Sixteen of the top 30 largest publicly disclosed lawsuits in 2012 were Scaffold Law lawsuits – the largest of which was against a school district and several others against municipalities.

While a potentially huge judgment could make or break a school or municipal budget, the more insidious cost is the day-to-day cost of insurance. Liability insurance in New York can cost more than 10 times what it does in neighboring states, due in large part to the absolute liability standard of the Scaffold Law.

Gov. Cuomo should be commended for tackling tough issues and passing a budget on time. But if his administration wants to help the budgets of our struggling schools and municipalities, he should champion the reform of the Scaffold Law.

Brad Walters is executive director of the Southern Tier Builders Association in Falconer.