Familiarize yourself with Scaffold Law obligations

Buffalo’s renaissance is driving an ongoing face-lift all over the city. With the tremendous amount of construction and development occurring, site owners and contractors should be familiar with the statutory liabilities imposed on them by New York’s Scaffold Law.

Whether structuring a deal, performing the work, or determining your insurance needs, understanding the special duties and obligations the Scaffold Law places on site owners and contractors is important.

Labor Law §§ 240 (the Scaffold Law statute), and its counterpart Labor Law §§ 241(6), apply to “[a]ll contractors and owners and their agents,” except owners of one and two-family homes who do not exercise control over a project.

In recent years, the Court of Appeals has been actively involved in shaping the scope of these laws by examining who is subject to their special obligations and what types of activities and accidents are subject to their special protections.

crane for scaffold law postNotably, the “ownership” that triggers the protection of these laws is not necessarily determined by the name on a deed.

Given that real estate development or renovation often involves complicated relationships, determining who qualifies as an “owner” for the purposes of the Scaffold Law statutes can sometimes be a complex and nuanced analysis.

For example, in Scaparo v. Village of Ilion, the plaintiff was injured while employed by the Village of Frankfort to install a sewer for a church’s new chapel. The sewer was being installed on property next to the church which was owned by a local industrial development agency.

The Court of Appeals held that even as a record owner, the IDA was not an “owner” under the statute. Similarly, the church was not an “owner” because it had no property interest in the location where the accident occurred.

More recently, in Guryev v. Tomchinsky, the Court of Appeals split on whether a condominium board is an “owner” under the statute. In that case, the plaintiff was injured while renovating an individual condominium unit.

A majority of the court held that the statute did not apply to the board, because unlike a co-op (which typically owns an entire building and each unit within it,) the board did not own the unit being renovated by the plaintiff.

The court also ruled that an agreement between the board and the unit owner was not sufficient to impose the Labor Law’s special obligations on the board.

Patrick Hines headshot
Patrick Hines, Associate at Hodgson Russ

The court’s analysis of interests and relationships in cases like Scaparo and Guryev illustrates the importance of keeping in mind the potential applicability of Scaffold Law protections when structuring any development or renovation deal.

Understanding the rights and responsibilities of various parties in advance can prevent unnecessary litigation and inadvertent exposure to costly liability.

About the author: Patrick Hines, a three-year Partnership member, is an Associate with Hodgson Russ LLP. Hines focuses his practice on personal injury insurance defense and business litigation matters, including labor law, negligence and toxic torts.