Even though the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) spends considerable funds to prevent construction site accidents, the work of construction is an inherently dangerous activity with an average of 200,000 workers injured every year in the United States. Formed in 1970 under President Nixon, OSHA’s mission is to: “assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.”
The agency calls the most frequent causes of worker death “the fatal four” – falls, electrocutions, objects that strike a person, and getting caught in between objects or parts of the construction site. Sixty percent of all construction work-related deaths are a result of one of these four types of accidents.
Falls are usually from ladders, from upper levels of buildings under construction, slips or trips, or falls from scaffolding (or as a result of collapsing scaffolding). Instability of surfaces, improperly positioned ladders, insufficient fall protection such as ropes for those hanging from high places, or holes/openings are the most frequent causes of falls. Some injuries are a result of both electrocutions and falls when contact with electricity causes the worker to lose his grip.
In the “objects that strike a person” category are motor vehicle collisions, which are the most frequent cause of these types of accidents. Workers are frequently hit by automobiles or machinery while on the job. OSHA requires that all drivers on construction sites walk around the vehicle before moving to make sure that no one is nearby. Besides vehicle accidents, anything on a construction site can become disengaged and fall, striking a worker – ladders, scaffolds, cranes, tools, bricks, stones, etc. The possibilities for getting caught between objects are practically endless on constructions sites, such as between machinery or between building materials.
Who Pays for Construction Injuries?
Workers’ or Workman’s Compensation insurance is in place to pay for the injuries in these cases, but the specific rules vary from state to state. In the majority of states, if negligence was the cause of the accident – particularly in what is called “gross negligence” – the worker can also file a separate lawsuit against the parties believed to be responsible. The worker is the plaintiff in the case, and those who are alleged to have been negligent are the defendants.
Workers’ or Workman’s Compensation insurance is not involved when the person injured in a construction accident is not a worker on the site. These individuals may be residents of the building or people passing by, either on foot or in vehicles parked next to or driving past the construction site. They could also be people who wander onto the site. These injured non-workers can file lawsuits against the entities responsible for maintaining a safe location. Of course, if someone is on the site without permission, he or she may be held fully or partially responsible for his or her own injuries.
The defendants in these cases can vary from the general contractor and subcontractor to manufacturers of machinery or equipment, such as faulty or defective scaffolding, electrical wiring, etc.
When gross negligence is involved, those responsible may also face criminal charges.
What Recovery am I Entitled to in a Construction Accident Claim?
A worker filing a Workers’ Compensation claim in California is entitled to have his or her medical care costs covered by the employer, as well as to receive temporary or permanent disability benefits for time spent away from work. A deceased worker’s family may also receive death benefits in a workers’ compensation claim.
In a civil claim related to a construction accident, a worker may receive similar benefits as in workers’ compensation claim, but the injured worker may also recover for additional damages, including the lifetime pain and suffering endured by the worker in connection with the injuries, and other damages such as loss of consortium and even punitive damages in certain circumstances. Thus, the recovery in a civil claim could be much higher than in a workers’ compensation claim.
Should I Bring a Workers’ Compensation or Civil Claim?
In many cases, a worker is limited to bringing a Workers’ Compensation claim and may not bring a civil claim. This will depend on the nature of the accident and the identity of the defendant. When a worker wants to recover from his or her employer for an accident where there was simple negligence or no fault, workers’ compensation is often the only avenue for compensation. Where the accident was the result of recklessness, an intentional act, or was caused by a third party – for example where a defective piece of machinery caused the injury – a civil action may be possible. Work with an attorney to determine whether a Workers’ Compensation or civil claim is right for your construction accident matter.
The Complexity of Construction Injury Cases
While a plaintiff might sue all of the parties on a construction site, determining who was negligent and responsible for the accident can take considerable investigation. These sites almost always entail a number of different entities with a variety of contracts between them. Some of those contracts will include indemnity clauses, which stipulate that they are not to be held responsible if an accident occurs. This can sometimes leave most of the fault with the general contractor.
Another question is whether or not the accident happened because of an engineer’s mistake or a mistake in the execution of the engineer’s plan. Then, it must be proven that the mistake actually caused a safety hazard that then caused the accident. Sometimes, a worker has not been given sufficient training to handle the equipment required on the job. It is usually considered the general contractor’s responsibility to make sure all workers are properly trained and that the subcontractors are living up to their obligations.
In order to come to an accurate conclusion as to fault, an investigation of the accident scene must take place immediately before anything has been altered or moved. Witnesses should also be interviewed right away while the incident is fresh in their minds.
If more than one entity or individual is found to be at fault for an accident and resulting injuries, the degree of each party’s fault must be determined or agreed upon as well. This means that percentages are often attributed to each defendant so that the monies paid to the plaintiff for injuries and damages are divided up fairly among those found to be responsible.
Because of the number of parties often involved in construction injury lawsuits, it is not uncommon for these cases to fail to settle outside of court. Such an out-of-court settlement means that the parties have agreed to the amount of money to be paid to the injured parties. If they cannot agree and the case proceeds to trial, a judge or jury decides how much money each defendant must pay to take care of the costs of the injuries.