Unions and Contractors’ Associations Angered by City Plan to Limit Damage Awards in Construction Fatalities
Construction workers in New York enjoy a level of protection unmatched throughout the country due to the state’s 133-year-old Scaffold Law. The law makes employers 100 percent liable for falls when the employer has violated a safety ordinance, even if the worker’s own negligence contributed to the fall. Naturally, the Scaffold Law has many opponents, including contractors, real estate developers, and insurance companies, who regularly try to chip away at its provisions. The latest strategy involves using a sliding scale to limit the amount that next of kin can recover in damages for a fatal construction site accident. But rather than pitting contractors against the unions, this bill has the heads of two major contractors’ associations fighting on the side of the unions against the proposal.
According to the New York Post, the bill, which is sponsored by outgoing Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, would allow judges to “consider a ‘defendant’s financial resources’ in determining penalties for construction violations that result in death or serious injury.” It would also set a limit for civil penalties at “$500,000 for companies and $150,000 for individuals deemed responsible for creating hazardous conditions that lead to death or serious injury on a job site.”
The measure is designed to prevent a wrongful death claim from putting a smaller contractor out of business. Many of these smaller contractors are minority- and women-owned businesses, which New York City has been actively trying to assist.
But Louis Coletti, head of the Building Trades Employers’ Association, which represents 1,700 construction managers, general contractors and specialty subcontractor firms in New York City, objects. Mr. Coletti insists, “Ability to pay should not be a consideration when enforcing construction safety regulation.” That objection is shared by Denise Richardson, executive director of the General Contractors Association of New York, who called the sliding-scale provision “egregious,” and warned, “The message this bill sends is that workers’ lives at larger, more established companies are more valuable than workers’ lives at smaller, less established firms.”
Although the contractors’ associations are looking out for their own interests by demanding a level playing field for industry employers, opposition to the bill is also good news for workers’ families, who would have their recovery reduced if a worker suffered a deadly accident.
At Barasch McGarry Salzman & Penson, our New York City construction accident lawyers protect the rights of injured workers. If you’ve been hurt in a worksite accident, call us at 888.746.8212 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.