The construction industry has long accepted that the New York scaffold law (NY Labour Law Section 240-241) imposes strict liability on construction contractors and property owners for injuries suffered by workers who fall or are hit by a falling object as a result of inadequate scaffolding or similar construction structures (eg, ladders or temporary staircases). A recent decision by the New York Court of Appeals indicates that this common understanding is wrong.
In O'Brien v Port Authority a construction worker was injured when he slipped and fell on a temporary staircase that was wet due to rainfall. The worker sued his employer and the property owner and the parties produced testimony from experts who disagreed about whether the safety measures used on the temporary staircase were adequate to properly protect the worker. A majority of the New York Court of Appeals reversed the decision of a lower appellate court and found that the fact that the worker was injured was not, by itself, enough to impose liability where defendants had provided evidence that the safety measures employed were adequate. The court held that the trial court was required to weigh the competing evidence about whether the safety measures employed on the staircase were adequate to have properly protected the worker.
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