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Can I sue for a construction injury if I was drunk on the job?

It is common knowledge that construction work is dangerous and has one of the highest rates of workplace injuries and fatalities. Workers' compensation claims and lawsuits are normal and encourage employers to do all they can to make the site as safe as possible for workers.

What happens, though, if a construction-site accident in New York is your fault? For example, what if you had been drinking earlier and then made a mistake that led to your injury? Can that fact become evidence against you so you are ineligible for compensation?

The Scaffold Law

New York is the only U.S. state that has what is known as the Scaffold Law. This law puts all responsibility for safety and liability for injuries on contractors and third parties involved in building projects. Its purpose is to reduce accident risk for construction workers, as no employer wants to pay a large settlement.

This approach means that employees may be partially, or even completely, at fault and still be able to seek compensation for their injuries. The law does not consider comparative negligence. So, yes, you can be intoxicated at a jobsite and still sue your employer, but you still have to prove there was a violation of safety standards and it led to your injury.

What about accidents that do not occur on scaffolds and other hoisting devices? The law still applies unless the injury is a result of only intoxication, says the New York State Workers' Compensation Board.

The controversy

Of course, contractors do not like shouldering all the accountability, so they have been lobbying to reform the law so that workers will share some of the liability if they contribute to the accident. Opposers to the law argue that it actually decreases safety and increases costs for everyone, including New York taxpayers. Opposers to the reform argue that minority workers would experience the most negative impact and insurance providers should reform their premiums instead. No matter which side of the debate you are on, you deserve financial awards if your employer's violations led to you suffering severe injury.

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