A construction accident in New York City’s trendy SoHo District on the weekend before Thanksgiving has given a lot of pedestrians something to be thankful for.

Wind gusts of 30 to 35 miles per hour caused scaffolding to collapse near the corner of Prince and Broadway. Remarkably, only six people suffered moderate to minor injuries from falling lumber and metal siding that rained down on the crowded intersection.

A fire department official said that the wind displaced a piece of plywood which then “acted like a sail” and brought the entire structure down. Officials also commented about how fortunate it was that no subway train had recently been through, as that would have added more pedestrians to the street below. According to news reports, this particular scaffold was built to withstand winds of up to 98 miles per hour, so questions have been raised as to why wind gusts less than half that strong brought the structure down.

Scaffold collapses in the past have caused life-altering and fatal injuries; notably, the collapse that killed five construction workers nearly two months after 9/11. Construction is constantly occurring all over Manhattan, and scaffolding and sidewalk sheds are a common sight. But who is in charge of inspecting scaffolds for safety, and who can be held liable when a construction worker or pedestrian is injured in a collapse?

DOB’s Scaffold Safety Unit

The Department of Building’s Scaffold Safety Unit is in charge of overseeing the installation, use, and dismantling of all suspended scaffolds, supported scaffolds, and sidewalk sheds in New York City. However, it is the construction company’s responsibility to perform daily inspections before the scaffold is used. The results of these inspections need to be recorded in a log book that is kept on the construction site. The Scaffold Safety Unit can stop by any time to inspect the log book and cite the construction company if an entry is missing.

Liability for a Scaffold Accident

New York City has unique and highly-debated laws concerning liability in scaffold accidents. The original law is over 130 years old and was instituted to protect workers and civilians from the danger of scaffold accidents that were increasing in number during the city’s burgeoning high-rise construction boom. The law has been revised over the years, but its concept has essentially stayed the same—that contractors and property owners are responsible for injuries and losses suffered by workers and pedestrians in a scaffold accident.

For more information about scaffolding laws, feel free to contact New York’s Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro, Moses & Halperin, LLP, by calling (212) 986-7353.