The Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO, is writing in opposition to H.R. 3808, the Infrastructure Expansion Act of 2017, which would prohibit states from establishing strict liability standards for certain construction accidents. This bill would be an unprecedented intrusion into state liability law. Its scope is vast, covering any such “project for which Federal financial assistance is used, directly or indirectly.” These terms are undefined and vague, but a common sense reading suggests they are meant to cover far more worksites than just those receiving federal grants.
Construction is one of the most dangerous jobs in the nation. Currently, states like New York insist on strict liability for contractors and owners when it comes to sites covered by this bill, that is, those “with an elevation or gravity related risk occurring on that project.” This is because New York has determined that those controlling safety at a construction site should be exclusively responsible for ensuring safety and limiting hazards. New York has done this to protect not only workers from unsafe scaffolding, ladders, flooring, elevators and other hazards, but also pedestrians walking on sidewalks and streets where there is active construction.
But even in New York, an accident alone does not establish liability. A defendant cannot be held liable unless they have violated a required safety standard. They cannot be held liable if an accident was solely caused by the worker’s negligence (i.e., being intoxicated at work, etc.). In other words, New York has carefully developed its law over decades, balancing interests to both encourage safety and provide proper remedies for those who have been hurt.
H.R. 3808 directly tramples on a state’s right to decide what’s best for its workers and residents regarding the responsibility of local contractors and building owners to ensure safe construction sites. It would overturn traditional state common law and interfere with a state’s right to establish tort remedies, one of the most basic and traditional of state functions. Please oppose this harmful legislation.
Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO