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Contractors call for scaffold law reform

Correction appended

Representatives from the construction and real estate industries testified at a New York State Senate Forum on Insurance Reform on the need to curb the rising cost of insurance as a result of New York State’s Scaffold Law.

The Scaffold Law, which dates back to 1885, imposes absolute liability for any elevation-related injuries on contractors involved in construction or repair work, says the General Contractors Association of New York.

Forcing contractors to assume 100 percent of the liability regardless of the cause of the accident is contrary to every other personal injury action in New York State, which utilizes comparative negligence. That requires an assessment of the degree of causation based on all the facts in a fair and proportional way.

“New York State is the only state in the country to have absolute liability, which has a resonating effect before, during and after any construction project,” said Denise Richardson, managing director of the General Contractors Association of New York.

“A recent survey of GCA members shows that general liability insurance costs have increased up to one thousand percent in the last two years alone.”

Arthur Rubenstein, the owner of Skyline Steel, also testified that the cost to renew his insurance this year was up over 500 percent compared to two years ago, despite an impeccable safety record.

Christopher Jaskiewicz, COO of the Gotham Organization stated, “Increased [insurance] costs hurts private development and public projects. The math is easy — if the New York State capital budget is $20 billion, the five percent surcharge to the taxpayer totals over $1 billion.”

According to the GCA, the rising costs have resulted in construction insurance carriers leaving the New York State marketplace, limiting the options contractors have and pricing small businesses out of the procurement process.

A two to four percent increase in insurance costs has also led to a rise in total project costs of 8-12 percent, says the Association.

The General Contractors Association of New York, its member companies and real estate partners are calling on Albany to pass responsible legislation that imposes “comparative negligence” standards in the assessment of liability and removes the loophole that allows workers to file both a scaffold law-related lawsuit and a worker’s compensation claim.

“Comparative negligence protects contractors, workers, real estate developers, insurance companies, taxpayers and all municipalities throughout the state by ensuring a safe, worry-free work environment that creates a fair process when dealing with a worker injury while also dealing with the issues of rising costs,ˮ said the Association in a statement.

“The State of Illinois, the last state with a similar statute before it was repealed in 1995, has benefited greatly with comparative negligence which has increased the number of construction projects and good-paying jobs while decreasing the number of workplace injuries and keeping insurance rates down.ˮ

*The article incorrectly states that the proposed reform legislation “removes the loophole that allows workers to file both a scaffold law-related lawsuit and a worker’s compensation claim.”  The reform legislation makes no change to the injured worker’s right to both worker’s compensation benefits as well as pursuing a liability lawsuit. The proposed legislation would provide a “comparative negligence” standard only for liability claims.  Regardless of any negligence on the part of the injured worker, the worker would receive full workers compensation benefits.  These benefits provide both medical costs as well as a generous weekly benefit to compensate for lost wages. –  Arthur Rubinstein,   Chair-Government Affairs Committee, Building Trades Employers Association, President -Skyline Steel Corp

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