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Articles Posted in Construction Accidents

Thumbnail image for scaffold.jpgI read in the New York Law Journal today that a coalition of business groups has formed to once again attack Labor Law §240, known as the “Scaffold Law”, and its sister Statute, Labor Law §241. The Scaffold Law has, in my humble opinion as a Central and Syracuse New York construction accident lawyer, saved countless lives in New York by holding employers and owners of construction sites responsible for workers’ falls from scaffolds (among other things). The other Statute, Labor Law §241, provides additional protection, not only from falls, but for many other types of common construction “accidents” (I put “accidents” in quotes because most of them are not true accidents, but rather the result of employers and others encouraging or allowing their workers to cut corners on safety).

The “new” coalition is made up of the usual suspects: The Business Council of the State of New York, the Associated General Contractors of New York State, Unshackle Upstate, and the New York State Builders Association. These guys get together every five years or so to take another whack at our dear Labor Law, so far, thank God, without success! If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try . . .. Well, you know.

According to the article, the new coalition’s leaders believe Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration may be more “business-friendly” than his predecessors’, and that the time is right for delivering a knock-out blow to these safe construction-work statutes. And they may be right! But even if they are “right”, what they are doing is wrong. They are putting profits over safety, and in my book, and I hope in Mr. Cuomo’s, that’s like finger nails on a blackboard.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for constructionworkeronroof.jpgThis story just kills me. The Syracuse Post Standard reports that a construction worker repairing the roof of Tully High School fell from the roof this morning while members of the high school’s girls cross-country team stood by and witnessed it. I feel terrible for the injured worker, but also for those poor kids who witnessed the tragedy.

And it was an avoidable tragedy. The law was not followed. I’ll tell you more about that later, but first let me say that, in my experience as a Syracuse construction work accident lawyer, most fallen roofer injuries are serious, and life-long. Because the injuries from falls are so serious, New York has a special law to protect construction workers on rooftops and scaffolds. It’s called Labor Law 240, or “the scaffold law”.

Tully School District will almost certainly be held liable to the fallen roof-repair man. Why? Because under New York Labor Law 240, the owner of a building is, in almost all circumstances, strictly liable for all worker falls from the building’s roof. The roof repair man should have been tied up with a lanyard or some other safety device, and apparently he was not. This is, generally, a clear cut violation of Labor Law 240.

house painter.jpgWhen I was a college student, I used to paint houses in the summer to make a few bucks. I was fearless then. I would climb way up high on extension ladders and paint the peaks of three-story homes. And I would climb on roofs, lie down and dangle my head over the edge, and paint the eeves. Nothing was holding me to the roof except gravity and guts. I was in my 20’s and I did not think I could ever die, or even get injured. And work was plentiful. Homeowners readily hired me because I had a reputation for doing a good job on the cheap.

Now, much older, wiser, and having represented too many fallen workers in my job as a Central New York and Syracuse construction accident lawyer, I dare not climb a ladder even to clean my own gutters. Being a Central New York construction accident lawyer has its downside – I have lost my nerve. I take six steps up the ladder, my mind’s eye sees three or four clients who fell when the ladder they were on toppled, or when they lost their grip, I then think of how my family will fare without a breadwinner, and before you know it, I have backed my way down the ladder to the safety of mother earth.

My house needs painting. Even though I have painted over 50 houses in the day, I am not going to paint mine. I would much rather represent fallen workers than be one.

roofers.jpgTake a drive around Central New York in this nice springtime weather and you’ll probably see workers up on ladders and roofs, repairing roofs, gutters or doing other types of construction work. But you probably don’t look at construction work the same way I do. As a Syracuse New York construction accident lawyer, I see laws being broken! The workers are not breaking the law, but the contractors who hire them and the owners of the buildings they are working on are.

Under New York’s Labor Law and Federal law (OSHA), construction workers working from heights are required to be tied up with a full-body harness attached to a shock-absorbing lanyard or a retractable lifeline. A lanyard or lifeline stops the worker from hitting the ground – instead his fall is arrested on the way down. And because lanyards and lifelines are made to absorb shock, the gravitational forces on the body are minimized. The full-body harness then distributes the remaining gravitational forces of the fall throughout the entire body so as minimize the risk of strain or injury to any part of the body.

The contractor and owner of the building are also supposed to ensure that the ladders workers use to get up to the heights they are working from are tied down, both at the bottom and the top.

drill rig.jpgA web article I stumbled upon jumped off my computer screen at me today. It was titled “Plaintiffs lawyers eyeing Marcellus Shale Work.” My first thought: “Gee, I am a New York personal injury lawyer located right in the Marcellus Shale zone, so how come I am not ‘eyeing’ the future Marcellus Shall Work”. Next thought: “Hey, that hydrofracking work will be dangerous, workers will get hurt, they will need New York personal injury lawyers to represent them, so gosh, maybe I should be ‘eyeing’ the Marcellus shale work”. Next thought: “Don’t want people getting hurt, and besides, it’s going to be messy for our environment up here, so thanks but no thanks”.

All those thoughts streamed through my brain in about 3 seconds, before I even got to the first word of the article. Then I read it. A personal injury lawyer out of Pennsylvania somewhere was quoted as saying that the Marcellus Shale drilling would cause “horrendous injuries” because of all the gas and liquid under high pressure carried through pipelines, stored in big tanks, and ejected underground at high pressure. Drill rigs are notoriously dangerous. Toxic gas leaks burn workers and gas rigs explode. Big tanker trucks cause motor vehicle accidents on narrow local roadways.

OMG! Parade of horribles. Well, he convinced me: the Shale gas drilling, or “hydrofracking” as it’s called, if it ever happens up here, will be good for the personal injury law business. Unfortunately, it probably will, if it goes forward, produce a fair number of serious injuries and deaths. And I am sure that many of the injured and the families of the dead will find their way to our law office since we are well regarded in the personal injury field and, I believe, the only law firm located in our area of the Finger Lakes that limits its practices almost exclusively to New York personal injury cases.

snow roof.jpgThese winter days of snow-caked rooftops, there are lots of folks are up on roofs with chisels, hammers and shovels trying to dislodge ice and clear off snow. And for a good reason; all that snow and ice buildup can damage the roof, and can even cause the roof to collapse! That’s pretty dangerous, but being up there on the snow-and-ice capped roof, if you don’t know what you are doing, isn’t so safe either. Quick advice from this Central and Syracuse New York personal injury lawyer: Don’t do it yourself unless you know what you are doing. Hire a contractor or roofer instead.

But wait a minute. If you do hire someone to do it for you, and he falls off your roof and is injured or dies, can he, or his family, sue you?

Before I tell you the answer, let me give you some law. New York has a special law, called New York Labor Law 240, which provides that workers may bring a lawsuit against the “owner” of a building (among others) if the workers fall and are injured while engaged in either “cleaning” or “repair” work (among other things). Clearing snow and ice off a roof has been held to be a “cleaning” activity, and of course fixing a leak is a “repair” activity, so if someone falls from your roof while doing either of those things, you, the homeowner, would, at first glance, seem to be liable for the injuries sustained by the fallen worker.

Thumbnail image for scaffold.jpgMy last blog was about ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution), such as mediation and arbitration, which is, to a certain extent, replacing jury trials as a way to resolve personal injury lawsuits in Syracuse, Central New York, and, in fact, just about everywhere else. Here’s a recent example of how ADR works from my own case load.

I am scheduled to try a Syracuse fall-from-scaffold lawsuit in about 3 weeks. Meanwhile, the defendant’s insurance carrier has invited me to try to settle the case through “mediation” first. After I explained how this works, my client agreed to it, and we will be at the mediation table in about a week. If we don’t settle at the mediation, I will have only a few weeks to prepare my trial, which is not enough time. I really need 6 weeks! So I am already preparing my exhibits, my direct examinations, my cross-examinations, etc., in case I need to try this Syracuse construction accident lawsuit.

The case may or may not settle at mediation. Much of that depends on how reasonable the insurance carrier will be. If the case settles in mediation, I won’t feel bad about having spent so much time preparing for trial. I always learn by preparing for trial. It makes me a better lawyer.

scaffold.jpgMy hometown newspaper, the Geneva Finger Lakes Times, reports today that a Florida man working for a subcontractor on the Wal-Mart “Super Center” expansion in the Town of Geneva, New York, fell from a scaffold, suffered shoulder and wrist injuries, and was then Merrcy Flight-flown to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. The worker had been working at the ceiling level when he and the scaffold both fell over. OSHA is investigating.

No matter what OSHA decides, though, I can tell you with almost absolute certainty, from my years of handling New York falling scaffold injury cases, that the injured worker has a “slam dunk” New York worksite accident case against the owner of the building where he fell, Wal-Mart, as well as against whoever the general contractor on the job was. This is because of a special New York law, called the “scaffold law” (Labor Law 240[1]), specifically designed to help victims of unsecure scaffolds and ladders get full compensation for their injuries from both the owner of the building and the general contractor on the job. You can read my prior posts on this topic by clicking here and here.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for scaffold.jpgSyracuse construction workers, employed by Apple Roofing, who were injured when a scaffold collapsed, bringing them down with it, at Binghamton University dormitory under construction. I talked about how New York’s special “Scaffold Law” (Labor Law 240) makes the Owner of the construction site (New York State and perhaps the New York Dormitory Authority) and the general contractor (LeChase Construction)on the job automatically liable for the fall and injuries.

Here I want to talk about how a smart New York construction accident lawyer would handle this case. He or she would get this case to a judge ASAP to rule that the Scaffold Law applies, and that the defendants are therefore automatically liable for the injuries! (You can do this through a procedure known as a “summary judgment motion”). Why the rush? Because once you establish, under New York law, that these guys are liable, 9% annual interest starts running on the money the injured construction workers are owed for their injuries. Now that’s a lot of interest in today’s weak economy. Try getting that on Wall Street today!

After “liability” is established on “summary judgment”, which is a no-brainer in this case, and interest starts running, getting the case to a jury on the remaining issues of medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering compensation, will take some time. In fact, you have to wait to see how well the injured worker heals before you even know how much to ask a jury for. But now at least you have interest running. The money is in the bank, and is cooking up 9% interest a year!

I have seen too many lawyers wait too long before getting a ruling on liability. They thus give up all that interest. They think they have to wait for a lot of “depositions” to be taken before they can get the ruling. But in a case like this one, with such clear liability, there should be no need for that. Get that liability ruling, and get it fast. Get that interest running! Then, when you eventually get your money verdict, the judge will tag onto it all that interest that has been running at 9% annually since the date liability was granted. Believe me; all that interest tagged on can make a huge difference in the ultimate money verdict for the injured construction worker!

Thumbnail image for scaffold.jpgScaffolding has only one purpose: To hold workers up safely while they work. And when it doesn’t do that, very bad things happen. I’m talking big injuries, or even death. That’s why, for generations, New York State has recognized the importance of having an iron-tight law to protect construction workers from the severe injuries, or death, caused by falls from scaffolds.

The Binghamton New York scaffold collapse, which injured six construction workers yesterday, is a prime example of how important New York’s “scaffold law” (Labor Law 240) is. The scaffolding had been erected at Binghamton University on the side of a dormitory under construction. It had not been up even 24 hours when it collapsed, taking six construction workers down with it. I can guaranty you that workers’ compensation will never be enough to fully compensate these injured construction workers. That’s why Labor Law 240, the “Scaffold Law”, is so handy for New York construction and scaffolding accident lawyers like me. This Statute makes it easy to get full and fair compensation for the victims of collapsing scaffolds.

The “Scaffold Law” says that the owner and general contractor (and sometimes others) of the construction project are AUTOMATICALLY liable (New York scaffold lawyers say “strictly liable”) to injured construction workers who fall from scaffolds. If the scaffold failed to do its job of holding the workers up safely, then they are liable, period. No excuses. No stories. No shifting the blame to others. (Well, there are a few exceptions, but I can’t see any that would be applicable on the facts of this case).

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