Outdated Scaffold Law Piles Costs On Taxpayers

Recently, we devoted one of our radio commentaries to how New York’s outdated Scaffold Law adds hundreds of millions of dollars to building projects in that state.  It’s a unique “under the radar” issue even though it affects everyone in that state from taxpayers to school children, so it’s worth a more in-depth look.

In a column in the New York Daily News, Bill Hammond reported last year that this law would likely add hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary costs to the reconstruction of the Tappan Zee Bridge and called it a “19th Century throwback that exists in no other state – sapping the economy and hitting taxpayers in the wallet.”

Despite how much taxpayer money is wasted because of this law each year, it’s safe to say that most people don’t know about it. I only became aware of it after hearing how much it costs New York City’s school system. According to a broad-based coalition now fighting to repeal the Scaffold Law, the “New York City School Construction Authority recently estimated the Scaffold Law wastes the equivalent of three new brand new schools in taxpayer dollars each year.”

So much for flying under the radar.  Adding millions of dollars to the cost of a bridge project is certainly bad, but when you hurt school kids, you’re going to start attracting attention.

At one time, many states had Scaffold Laws.  For years, these laws provided the only way that workers who fell or who were injured some other way while working on scaffolding could receive compensation for their injuries.  However, as federal workers compensation laws were enacted to provide benefits to injured workers, states repealed their outdated scaffold laws because they were redundant.  Except New York.

Today, New York’s one-of-a-kind scaffold law requires builders and contractors to buy not only workers compensation insurance, but special insurance to protect against lawsuits under the outdated scaffold law.  It’s essentially double insurance for the same thing, and it’s why Illinois was one of the last states to repeal its Scaffold Law in 1995.

The New York State Trial Lawyers Association is one of the primary opponents of repealing this dinosaur law claiming that the lawsuits they file are needed to keep workers safe.  However, in Illinois, construction site safety actually improved dramatically after the Scaffold Law was repealed.  According to ScaffoldLaw.org:

“Between 1995 and 2000, construction site fatalities declined as a percentage of construction workers by 30%. Injuries plummeted by 54%.”  Furthermore, “Despite having the Scaffold Law, the rate of construction injuries in New York exceeds that of other states with major metropolitan areas such as Florida, Texas, and Illinois.”

The trial lawyers and their allies have been able to keep this antiquated law on the books in part because so few people are aware of what a tremendous burden it has become on taxpayers.  It’s time to ratchet up debate on this costly problem and bring New York liability laws into the 21st century.

Warning! This Museum Is FUN! (To Sue?). Lawsuits Pit Kids Against Lawyers.

What do you call a museum that offers youngsters a five-story jungle gym, slides made from assembly line rollers, and a whale sculpture they can walk through?

Kids call it awesome!

Personal injury lawyers call it too dangerous.  And they’ve filed so many lawsuits against the museum that the price of liability insurance has skyrocketed from $36,000 in 1997 to about $600,000 now.  This is a story you need to hear.

The Wall Street Journal published an excellent article this week about the City Museum in St. Louis.  It’s so popular that it draws 700,000 visitors each year — almost twice the population of the city and way above the attendance at more traditional museums.  Obviously, kids love the place.

But, alas, in a museum that encourages boys and girls to leave the computer behind and climb, jump, and run to their heart’s content, there have been some spills.  Lawyers who have sued owner Bob Cassilly over some of the injuries say that the museum doesn’t have enough warnings posted.

What’s next, warning labels on trees urging kids not to climb on them?

Rather than give in to the lawyers’ demands, however, Cassilly is fighting back.  And his response is priceless.

He’s posted a sign near the entrance to the museum that lists the names and phone numbers of law firms that have sued the museum and which blames them for a 9% surcharge recently added to the cost of a ticket.  I want to shake this man’s hand.

You can read more about how the museum is standing up to the plaintiffs’ bar in a statement the museum has put on its website.

At a time when we’re seeing an alarming rise in obesity in America because so many kids don’t get out and exercise, it’s refreshing to see a man who is motivating kids to play and challenge themselves physically.  We need to be encouraging entrepreneurs to open more museums like this, not placing barriers in their way.

The banner on the museum’s web site proudly announces that this is a place  “Where the Imagination Runs Wild.”  Unfortunately, it has to operate in a nation where personal injury lawyers run wild, too.

Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and…lawsuits?

In recognition of Opening Week in Major League Baseball, I’ve devoted my radio commentary to a lawsuit involving a professional baseball club in New York.

If you like all the great traditions that have become part of baseball over the years and believe we need more fun things for the family like this, not more lawsuits, you might enjoy the commentary.  It’s only 60 seconds, and you can hear it by clicking on the link at right.

If you have a son, grandson or just know a boy who plays Little League baseball, you might also like to read a post further below involving a lawsuit against the company that makes Louisville Slugger bats.

The CEO of Little League of America once told me that his organization had to spend more money on liability insurance to protect itself from lawsuits than it spent on bats, balls, and all other equipment combined.  This is what we’ve come to, America.

Years from now, our children may be trading cards that honor the rich personal injury lawyers they will see on TV more often than their baseball heroes.  If the hot dog and cotton candy you ate at the ballpark don’t give you indigestion, the thought of that sure will.