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New bill increases penalties for construction safety violations

A New York state bill that was announced on Jan. 12 will change the state's penal code if passed and make it easier to prosecute corporations. Construction companies are a focus of the bill, and it includes specific rules for improving safety on construction sites.

Courts can already charge companies with crimes, but the new bill creates specific new violations for the construction industry. Contractors would be charged with crimes when they fail to follow safety rules, and fines for these crimes, which range from misdemeanors to felonies, would be increased to as much as $50,000.

While the bill is designed to improve safety and reduce construction workers' accidents, not everyone is happy about its implications. The president of the Real Estate Board of New York stated that while improving safety is important, if the bill becomes law, it would make it more difficult to find qualified site safety personnel and could 'shut down sites throughout the city."

The bill is part of a package of legislation aimed at the construction industry to improve safety. City Council began looking into construction safety issues after the deaths of two construction workers in November 2016.

Whether or not a company is charged with a crime when a safety violation results in an on-site accident, employees have a legal right to file personal injury lawsuits if they believe their employers are liable for a workplace injury. Filing a workers' compensation claim is separate, and by filing for workers' compensation, an employee relinquishes the right to file a personal lawsuit against his or her employer. The primary difference between the two types of claims is that a personal injury suit requires proving that the employer is responsible, but workers' compensation is a no-fault type of insurance.

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