The state of New York is a great place to live because it’s one of the centers of world commerce has been so for a long time now. Because of that, there are laws designed over a hundred years ago still on the books. Many of them no longer make sense.

The prime example is the scaffold law. By law, every single construction project in the state places “absolute liability” on the property owner and builder in the event of a construction worker’s fall. This one simple law, enacted in 1885, is what many builders and insurers blame for the slowdown of construction and growth in the Empire state. 

The absolute downside of absolute liability

Absolute liability means that no matter what happens to the worker, no matter the reason the worker fell, it is the responsibility of the building owner and the contractor. And by any reason, the state really means it. As it stands right now if a worker fell off a scaffolding while working because:

  • They were drunk
  • They were not using proper safety procedures
  • They lied about their qualifications
  • They were not authorized to be on the site 

They could then, theoretically, sue their employers and receive compensation.The original intent of the law was to protect workers in the 1880s. At that time, a law like this was necessary because worker protections were laughable. Since then the government has installed such legal options as workers’ compensation and OSHA regulations, and the continued existence of the Scaffold Law scares many developers away

New growth stifled by old law

While it is noble that the state of New York has a long history of trying to protect workers, the problem with this law is that there are better more capable tools. It is a sad state when the future is shackled by a relic of history.