Construction is a highly dangerous profession, and construction workers must sometimes deal with dangerous working conditions. Thus, work-related injuries are not uncommon at construction sites.
Hazards may include falling from high elevations, gas explosions, health hazards, or defective equipment injuries. Injuries from these types of accidents can be severe and can often affect a person’s ability to work or earn wages in the future.
Who May Be Liable for Such an Injury?
Workers' compensation generally covers on the job injuries. However, many different people may be held liable for the on-site injury of a worker. Certain parties may have different duties and legal responsibilities to the worker. Some people who may be held liable include:
- Construction Site Owners: The landowner may be liable for any injury caused by a potentially harmful condition on the land that he either knew or should have known about (this does not extend to obvious conditions).
- General Contractors and Subcontractors: The general contractor and subcontractor must provide a reasonably safe construction site. They have a legal duty to warn of any defects or hazards. Furthermore, they must comply with safety regulations.
- "Prime" Contractors: A prime contractor, as opposed to a general contractor, is only responsible for the work identified in his prime contract. Thus, he shares the same responsibilities as general contractors with regard to his specific projects.
- Architects and Engineers: The architect or engineer may be under contractual duties to the site owner. Duties may include progress observation (ensuring compliance with specifications) and site inspection (ensuring compliance with code regulations). There are also accepted standards in performing professional services that the architects and engineers will be held to.
- Construction Equipment Manufacturers: Manufacturers may be held liable for the design or manufacturing of a defective product.
- Insurers: Insurers may incur costs associated with an accident, and may sometimes be involved in a legal claim or lawsuit
Occupation Safety and Health Act
Most states have adopted the safety regulations under the Occupation Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA) . These regulations apply to construction sites. The legal effect of violating an OSHA regulation may vary depending on the state.
In general though, the OSHA is written broadly, with a general duty clause that employers:
- Furnish a work environment free from recognized hazards which may result in injury or death;
- Ensure that employees have and use equipment which would prevent injury or death; and
- Insure that all standards of the industry are complied with.
A breach of this law may allow a worker to sue his or her construction site employer for compensation.
Can Non-Workers of Construction Accidents Be Compensated?
Generally yes. Construction accidents to non-workers are generally divided into two groups: (1) harm because of a warning defect and (2) harm from negligence.
Construction often must occur in busy areas where pedestrians and cars must through. However, these sites often lack proper safety warnings. The construction site has a responsibility to ensure that all non-workers are forewarned about the danger around the construction zone.
If visibility is low, because its night or there is heavy fog, then construction sites have the additional responsibility of setting up barriers around the construction zone to ensure that pedestrians or drivers don’t accidentally enter the area. Indeed, failure to set up barriers may result in injury to workers, especially if a driver suddenly puts his car into a construction zone.
Construction accidents may also occur when construction workers are careless. Falling objects, crane accidents, or even loose wires can cause serious injury or even death. Determining the exact cause of injury can be complicated in these situations, so an experienced personal injury attorney can be very helpful if these accidents occur.
What If I Don’t Know How I was Injured?
Since construction accidents often involve falling objects, loose equipment, or other safety hazards beyond the vision and imagination of the average citizen, discovering how a construction accident occurred can be difficult. Although a person may know that a crane fell and smashed their car, that person may not know if the crane fell because the worker fell asleep, a part of the crane broke, or because of bad weather.
In these cases, a legal doctrine known as “res ipsa loquitur”, or “the thing speaks for itself” in Latin, is often used. It means that the exact cause of an accident is unknown, but some type of carelessness must have happened because the accident couldn’t have occurred without someone being negligent. If the doctrine is successfully invoked, the plaintiff would no longer have to prove how the accident occurred, only that an accident did occur.
Possible Defenses for a Construction Accident Lawsuit
As an aspect of personal injury law, there are a number of defenses a person could make if sued for a construction accident. Like all aspects of law though, the defenses must be proven in court to be successful. Some of these defenses include:
- Causation, Cause in Fact and Proximate Cause: If the accident occurred because of something other than the construction accident, then the defendant may not be responsible. For example, criminal activity by minors can be considered unforeseeable by the construction site and thus may limit liability.
- Contributory/Comparative Negligence: if the victim acted carelessly, then compensation may be limited by the victim’s own responsibility for the accident. For example, if a driver is texting while driving and drives into a construction zone, the construction site can blame the victim for his own carelessness.
- Assumption of the Risk: Warnings are essential to construction site safety, but if a person sees the warning and chooses to cross the site anyway, the construction site owners cannot be responsible for any injuries which occur.
What Should I Do If I am Injured in a Construction Accident?
If you are a construction worker who is injured at the construction site, there are certain things that you should do:
- Seek immediate medical attention for your injuries
- Report the injury to a superior and record the name and position of that person
- Record the contact information of any witnesses to your injury
- Try to preserve any evidence of your injury (i.e. photographs of your injury, photographs of where the injury occurred, and/or the equipment or tool involved)
Do I Need an Attorney Experienced with Construction Injury Law?
It may be helpful to consult a personal injury attorney who has experience with such on-site accidents. Although most states have adopted OSHA regulations, the effects of those laws vary among states. Filing for compensation under workers' compensation may not be to your advantage if the employer violated safety laws. A lawyer may be able to help you evaluate your potential claim.