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Letter: Rewrite liability law for more jobs

Construction crews on Long Island.

Construction crews on Long Island. Credit: Steven Pfost, 2013

Road construction season is in full swing, and that means thousands of jobs for Long Islanders. But even with the road work under way now, the state should be doing more. Fully 12 percent of New York's bridges are structurally deficient, and another 25 percent are functionally obsolete.

Repairing our infrastructure is a necessary investment, and making repairs when they are needed is far more cost-efficient than deferring maintenance. Unfortunately, a little-known law is adding millions of dollars in unnecessary costs and reducing the amount of construction work that can be undertaken, along with the associated jobs.

This is the "scaffold law," an only-in-New York relic that holds contractors and property owners virtually automatically fully liable for elevation-related workplace injuries. Even if the worker was negligent or intoxicated, the employer can be held liable.

Lawsuits borne from this law drive insurance premiums to astronomical levels, far higher than for comparable projects in neighboring states. Insurers are leaving the market, making it more difficult for some contractors to get coverage at any price. This puts New York businesses at a competitive disadvantage, and wastes taxpayer dollars.

Reform the scaffold law to allow liability to be determined based on actual fault -- the same as in other states.

Mitchell H. Pally, Stony Brook

Editor's note: The writer is the chief executive of the Long Island Builders Institute, a trade organization.

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