“The trial lawyers are the single most powerful political force in Albany”

by Walter Olson on May 4, 2014

Don’t take my word for it, take New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s:

Mr. Cuomo conceded that the scaffold law was among the “infuriating” things about doing business in New York, but couldn’t be changed because of the strength of its supporters, particularly the state trial lawyers association.

“The trial lawyers are the single most powerful political force in Albany,” he said. “That’s the short answer. It’s also the long answer.”

As Andrew Hawkins explains at Crain’s New York Business, which interviewed Cuomo, the scaffold law is New York’s alone-in-the-country legal regime ascribing 100% liability for gravity-related workplace injuries to businesses found to have contributed any fault, even if the predominant cause was a worker’s drunkenness or decision to violate safety rules. Because awards are high, some estimate that the law will contribute $200 million to construction costs at the Tappan Zee Bridge rebuilding project alone compared with a law more typical of what is found in other states. The law has been under vigorous attack for some time by a New York business coalition, to no avail.

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What New York’s Business Community Doesn’t Want You To Know About The Scaffold Law | The New York Medical Malpractice Law Blog
05.04.14 at 11:34 am


1 Boblipton 05.04.14 at 10:35 am

Too bad there’s no one in high elected office in New York State with the character to do what’s right, isn’t it, Mr. Governor.


2 Walter Olson 05.05.14 at 11:01 am

To my surprise, one lawyer claims I’m wrong to call the New York law unique in the nation. It is true that Illinois once had a similar law, but it was repealed in 1995. Other states do provide that some accidental falls may result in liability to building owners; what makes the New York law unique is not the mere possibility of liability but the denial of ordinarily available defenses. The relatively recent SUNY Rockefeller Institute study of the law, like earlier studies, deems the New York law unique (and according to the first-linked study “A preliminary review also indicated that no other nation retains a similar law.”) NYC-based personal injury lawyers readily acknowledge the New York law’s uniqueness at their websites.

3 Turk 05.05.14 at 11:36 am

As a result of the Scaffold Law, NY has one of the best safety records around when it comes to construction injuries/deaths.

And the law only pertains to circumstances where there were safety violations.

New York’s trial lawyers, of course, are barely a drop in the bucket compared to the wealth and power of the real estate developers and others…see:


4 Boblipton 05.05.14 at 4:33 pm

By all means, denounce other people’s sins rather than yours.


5 Turk 05.05.14 at 10:01 pm


Not sure what sins you are talking about. Lobbying for safety?

6 Max Kennerly 05.06.14 at 4:10 pm

I wonder if the scaffold law saves money in the end, or at least costs far less than assumed. Here in PA, a serious fall at a construction site turns into an endless litigation fiasco, as the tough joint and several laws force plaintiffs to name everyone they possibly can, after which every defendant invests six figures into a defense to try and cram down their proportionate liability, just so, after discovery and experts, they can all pay a mediator five figures to help them reach essentially the same pay division that would’ve happened under the scaffold law. It’s a million-dollar tort reform tax on top of the same liability.

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