by Tom Stebbins
If Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature are serious about expunging the corruption of the Sheldon Silver-era, they must look to reform the ridiculous trial lawyer-giveaway known as the “Scaffold Law.”
The Scaffold Law exists only in New York State and, confusingly, does not necessarily have anything to do with scaffolds. What it does is hold contractors and property owners automatically liable in a lawsuit, even if, in the words of the high court, “they had nothing to do with the plaintiff’s accident.”
Besides being patently unfair, the Scaffold Law drives up the cost of all construction in New York, from homes and schools, to roads and bridges. The estimated additional cost on the Tappan Zee Bridge project alone is over $200 million. Statewide, the law is estimated to add $785 million to the annual cost of New York State’s public projects.
The reason for reform is obvious. When contractors and property owners have virtually no defense against a lawsuit, there are more lawsuits against them. When there are more lawsuits, there are higher insurance costs. The trial lawyers have cravenly tried to place the blame on insurers for these costs, but tellingly, most national insurers will not write construction policies in New York due to the Scaffold Law.
For years, Sheldon Silver blocked reform to the Scaffold Law on behalf of the trial lawyers who, as we discovered from the trial, paid him handsomely. If Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature truly want to show it is a new day in Albany, they must first reform the greatest symbol of Sheldon Silver’s corruption: the Scaffold Law.
About the author: Thomas B. Stebbins is executive director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York.
Editor’s Note: The article previously appeared as a letter to the editor in the Journal News.