NYC Proposal Puts Sliding Scale on Wrongful Death Penalties

December 18, 2017

If New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has her way, unsafe contractors who put their worker's lives at risk will face lesser penalties based on what they can afford to pay - even if their employee has already paid with their life or life-long disability.

As part of an effort to increase safety on New York City's job sites, last January Mark-Viverito introduced a package of legislation to clarify safety training, administrative handling of violations, apprenticeships and define the financial penalties a construction company could face in a civil suit brought after a worker's death or injury.

However, in what seems to be a stunningly misguided attempt to keep construction companies from being put out of business after a worker has been permanently injured or killed on the job due to the company's lack of safe working conditions, Mark-Viverito is seeking to change the guidance judges are given when an injured/killed worker or that worker's family brings suit in civil court to seek financial damages from the contractor who violated safety provisions as determined by law.

Under Mark-Viverito's proposal, judges would have the authority to determine the amount of financial penalty awarded to the worker or family based on these four factors:

  • The extent and severity of injury to persons and property
  • The history of violations by the defendant of laws or rules enforced by the department
  • The degree of willfulness, recklessness or negligence displayed by the defendant in committing the violation
  • The defendant’s (construction company's) financial resources.

The New York Post reports Denise Richardson, director of the General Contractors Association, slammed the bill’s sliding-scale provision as “egregious.”

“The message this bill sends is that workers’ lives at larger, more established companies are more valuable than workers’ lives at smaller, less established firms,” she said.

Several New York unions are fighting passage of the bill.