Three New York-based contractor groups plus the New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials have asked Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to use the DOT’s regulatory authority to do away with the state’s Scaffold Law for contractors performing work on the $11.6 billion Hudson River Tunnel construction project. The three contractor groups are the Minority & Women Contractors & Developers Association, the Associated General Contractors of New York State and the General Contractors Association of New York.
Last week, the groups sent a letter claiming that the regulation, which assigns “absolute liability” to property owners and contractors for any gravity-related injury, will add between $180 million and $300 million to the project’s costs. The groups said that the big payouts from Scaffold Law-related lawsuits have pushed the cost of liability insurance up, driven insurers out of the market and even added $200 million to the cost of the new Mario Cuomo Bridge.
They said that the law should be replaced with a comparative negligence standard, which other states use to determine liability in the case of an injury. The DOT, they said, should mandate the comparative negligence standard for any project receiving federal grants.
A 75-member group calling itself the Scaffold Law Reform Coalition, which includes the Associated Builders and Contractors, the New York State Builders Association and the Hoisting and Scaffolding Trade Association, made a similar appeal last year to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and echoed the same concerns, such as the cost of liability insurance and the extra cost to taxpayers.
A 2017 Common Good report estimated that the Scaffold Law added $785 million to New York public projects.
One of the biggest beefs that critics have about the law is that contractors and developers are financially responsible for falls even if an accident is caused by the injured employee’s actions.
The Scaffold Law is not without its supporters though. The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health maintains that the regulation protects workers who perform the most dangerous jobs in construction. Falls, according to OSHA, are the leading cause of construction deaths.
The committee also says that contractors only have liability for fall injuries if they do not provide the proper safety equipment or violate safety and health regulations. In addition, NYCOSH suggested that insurance companies allow an evaluation of their records so that it can be determined if the Scaffold Law is really behind rising policy prices.
Last month, Buttigieg told lawmakers that the tunnel replacement and repair project between New York and New Jersey will be a priority for President Joe Biden’s administration. The existing tunnel was damaged by saltwater intrusion during Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
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