State lawmakers urged to shield builders from liability during disasters

Representatives from New York State’s top design, construction and real estate organizations ga

Representatives from New York State’s top design, construction and real estate organizations gathered in Albany to urge the State Legislature to empower the most qualified members of the building community in times of crisis by passing the New York Emergency Responder Act.

Photo by Taber Andrew Bain/ Flickr

Recognizing that normal planning and preparation is not possible in times of emergency, the bill, which is being sponsored by State Senator Diane J. Savino and Assemblyman Steve Englebright, creates a 90-day window during which firms would be protected from excessive liability claims while assisting government in its emergency response efforts.

The act would allow experienced professionals to respond to government’s call during declared emergencies.

After meeting with elected officials, the representatives from the building community held a press briefing and explained that the legislation is necessary to protect the designers, engineers, and contractors called upon by government to respond quickly to natural and man-made disasters, such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Superstorm Sandy, and Hurricane Irene.

In the case of 9/11, these professionals acted based on assurances that they would be shielded from lawsuits, yet found themselves virtually unprotected from the flood of personal injury cases that followed.

Today, the design, construction, and real estate industry remains just as exposed as it was on 9/11, with no consistent protections for private sector emergency responders.

Carlo A. Scissura, president and CEO, New York Building Congress said, “When disaster strikes, New York’s building industry is always among the first groups to report to duty. Following 9/11, New York’s hard hats and construction firms dropped what they were doing and flocked to Ground Zero out of a sense of civic duty, and they remained at the government’s request to undertake an unprecedented recovery effort. This sort of selfless dedication must be supported and protected.”

Robert E. Stark, President, American Institute of Architects New York State said, “Government employees are provided with liability protections for response and recovery work.  Extending this to private professionals who want to help in emergency situations would provide expanded response capacity critical situations.  In times of great need, government entities should be able to call on the design and construction industry, expanding their assessment capabilities, to help protect and preserve the health, safety and welfare of those New Yorkers impacted by a disaster.”

Jay Simson, President, American Council of Engineering Companies of New York said, “Engineers, architects and other construction professionals need to be able to respond to natural and man-made disasters in a timely manner immediately following disasters and should not be deterred from providing their assistance by the threat of lawsuits.  Most local authorities do not have the resources to immediately respond to these catastrophic events and need to partner with the private sector for their talent and expertise.

“The engineering, architecture and construction community must be free to act in these situations without putting their businesses and livelihoods at risk. ACEC New York supports the passing of the Emergency Responder Act for the benefit of all New Yorkers.”

Felice Farber, Director of External Affairs, General Contractors Association of New York said, “When an emergency occurs, whether through an act of nature or terror, the first thought should be how do I help people – not, could this lead to a lawsuit?

“The Emergency Responder Act would provide the legal framework that allows New Yorkers to act with the pride, decency, and caring for one other that has allowed us to overcome countless obstacles in the past.  It’s time to finally pass this common sense legislation.”

State lawmakers urged to shield builders from liability during disasters : Real Estate Weekly