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“Scaffold Law”

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16 October 2013
Construction Accidents

In 1885, the New York State Legislature passed Labor Law §240, which has since come to be known as the “Scaffold Law.”  This law, which is unique to New York, ensures that construction workers in New York have a greater protection under the law than any other construction workers in the United States.

This law protects construction workers exposed to height related risks when they are performing one of these enumerated activities:  erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building or structure.  For most of those activities, it is clear what the statute is referring to.  For example, there is no ambiguity as to what constitutes demolition work.  However, there has been much litigation into what constitutes a “repair” under Labor Law §240.

The Courts have long held that the accepted meaning of the word “repair” does not necessarily reflect the statutory meaning of the word “repair” as it relates to Labor Law §240.  In fact, the Courts have held there is a clear distinction between what qualifies as a repair and what qualifies as mere maintenance.  The items that qualify as maintenance would not be protected under Labor Law §240.

Over the years, the Courts have considered what constitutes a repair as opposed to routine maintenance, and have come up with a series of factors, including:

- whether the item being fixed had an intended life span and would require regular replacement (if yes, it’s maintenance)

-  whether the item being repaired was in operable (if yes, it’s a repair)

-  the length of time and manpower required to complete the job (the longer the job and the more manpower required means it’s likely to be a repair)

-   whether it’s a routine task that was performed pursuant to a service contract (if yes, it’s maintenance)

-   whether the task was part of an on-going construction project (if yes, it’s a repair)

There have been some interesting recent cases regarding this issue.  In a recent Second Department case, a worker was injured while performing work replacing bulbs and ballasts/transformers in 78 overhead light fixtures.  The worker’s employer provided seven or eight workers which were led by a team foreman to perform the work.  Thus, the Second Department held that in view of the overall scope of the job, the individual task, of replacing a transformer constituted a repair under Labor Law §240.

In a recent First Department case, plaintiff was working pursuant to a contract in which his employer had agreed to “inspect and maintain” an electrical sign.  The worker fell from a ladder while he was replacing a power supply box which he had done on at least 10 prior occasions.  The First Department dismissed the worker’s claim as the work he was performing was routine maintenance and not repair work as protected under Labor Law §240.

In another recent First Department case, a worker was injured while performing work replacing parts on the Gownaus barge.  The contractor’s job on the barge lasted several months with parts having to be shipped out of state for restoration or replacement.  The Second Department held that there was “nothing routine about this work” as this was a massive project, even though it could be characterized as maintenance of the barge.  Because of the scope of the project, it was held to be repair work that is protected under Labor Law §240.

As demonstrated above, it is specific details about the work you were performing when injured can be very important in determining whether you have a case under Labor Law §240.  It is important if you are injured while performing work that could be considered repair or maintenance work that you contact experience construction accident attorneys who can advise you as to the likelihood of success in your case

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