Injured Construction Workers May Pursue Third-Party Claims

Construction sites are some of the most dangerous places people can work. There are a variety of potential hazards, and even with proper safety measures, construction accidents still occur. When construction workers are injured on the job, it is important that they know about the options available to them to receive compensation for their injuries.

In New York, a construction worker’s direct employer’s liability is limited to workers’ compensation. Workers’ compensation provides weekly cash benefits and medical care for injured employees. The injured worker cannot seek further compensation from his or her employer through the court system, even if the employer was negligent.

Workers’ compensation has an advantage because workers qualify regardless of whether the injury was the employer’s fault. However, workers may be able to obtain more compensation through a civil claim.

Types Of Third-Party Claims

Even though injured workers cannot seek further compensation through their employer, they can seek compensation through a third-party claim. Third-party suits seek to hold others responsible when their negligence contributed to a work accident and resulting injury. Third-party claims often provide injured workers with more compensation than benefits from workers’ compensation. Third-party claims may include:

  • Contractors and subcontractors: Contractors and subcontractors are an integral part of most construction sites. When their carelessness, negligence or errors cause injuries, they can be subject to a third-party claim.
  • Product liability claims: If a worker is injured by a defective machine or part, he or she may hold the manufacturer responsible.
  • Property owners: Property owners have a duty to provide a safe place for construction employees to work. The extent of their obligation will depend on individual circumstances, but property owners can be held liable if workers are injured because of property owners’ failures.
  • Others: Agents of other companies and others whose negligence contributes to a construction site accident or injury may be subject to third-party claims.

Third-party claims can result from any worker injury. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, common worker injuries include falls, backovers, crane accidents, injuries from falling objects, burns, explosions and injuries from defective or improperly maintained equipment.

Complex Claims

Third-party construction accident claims are complex in part because they often include more than one defendant. In one New York case that went to trial in 2012, an injured worker sued both the property owner and a contracting company that had been hired to renovate a building where he was injured.

The worker was an employee of another company. He and a co-worker were performing asbestos abatement from an elevated basket attached to a man lift. The man lift rolled down a hill, the basket overturned and the worker was injured when he fell about 20 feet to the ground.

The third-party claim alleged that the defendants did not make sure that construction areas were safe for workers and they did not provide proper safety equipment. A jury agreed; the plaintiff was awarded $10 million for past and future pain and suffering, lost wages and other damages.

An Experienced Attorney Can Advise You

Because third-party construction claims are complex, injured construction workers and their families should consult with a lawyer who is experienced with third-party claims. A knowledgeable lawyer can provide advice about whether you have a potential third-party claim, help you enforce your rights and ensure that you obtain maximum compensation for your injuries.

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More American Workers Now Dying in Workplace Accidents

Despite new technologies and safety advances, increasing numbers of Americans are dying in workplace accidents. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4,690 workers died as the result of traumatic workplace injuries in 2010. This is an increase from the 4,551 fatalities in 2009. To put the current number in perspective, about 13 workers die on the job each day in America.

13 Job-Related Deaths A Day

Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis stated, “Every day in America, 13 people go to work and never come home. Every year in America, nearly 4 million people suffer a workplace injury from which some may never recover. These are preventable tragedies that disable our workers, devastate our families, and damage our economy.”

The construction industry is responsible for a significant percentage of workplace fatalities. In 2010, 18.7 percent of workplace deaths were due to construction accidents. Over a third of the fatalities on construction sites were caused by falls. The other three main causes of construction worker deaths were electrocutions, being struck by objects and being caught in between objects. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) refers to these four causes of construction accidents as the “fatal four.” The fatal four cause 437 construction worker fatalities each year.

Construction Accidents In New York City

New York City has been taking action to reduce construction accidents. After two crane accidents in 2008 killed three workers, and a demolition fire in 2007 killed two firefighters, the city began passing new rules and laws to prevent such accidents. According to the mayor’s office, over 5,000 stop-work orders were issued by the Buildings Department in 2011 for safety violations.

The enforcement of the new safety regulations appears to be making a difference. Construction accidents in New York City fell by 18 percent in 2011; and accidents causing injury decreased by almost eight percent. These gains occurred even as construction activity increased by almost eight percent.

Despite these improvements, five New York City construction workers lost their lives in accidents due to safety violations. The loss of even one life from such a preventable accident is far too many.

Contact An Attorney

If you or a loved one has been injured in a construction or other workplace accident, contact an attorney to discuss your rights and potential claims. An experienced attorney can advocate on your behalf to help ensure responsible parties are held accountable.

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Latino Workers at Higher Risk for Fatal Construction Accidents

Recent Tragic Queens Construction Accident Illustrates Problem

Just days ago, a job-site accident in Queens tragically killed a young, Latino construction worker. The 26-year-old man was helping construct a 65-foot wall when the cinder-block wall suddenly collapsed, killing him and seriously injuring three others. Early reports indicate that the wall failed as scaffolding collapsed and fell onto the wall. Sadly, the victim was a father, survived by his pregnant wife and two children.

The Queens construction accident is still under investigation, but presumably there were some safety practices overlooked. In fact, that same construction site had previously received six violations issued by the New York City Department of Buildings since June, 2009. The violations were for failure to follow essential safety laws, such as posting necessary warning signs.

A formal investigation is under way by the Buildings Department, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is likely to investigate, as they typically scrutinize the worksite of any fatal construction accident.

Accidents in the New York Construction Industry

New York City had 157 construction accidents in 2009, and those are just the accidents that were reported. In the construction industry, it is common practice to keep workplace accidents unreported unless a serious injury or death occurs. The construction industry is the second deadliest in the U.S. as 816 construction workers died in 2009, making it more dangerous than mining or factory work.

There are some risks a construction worker faces that can be reduced, but not eliminated. These threats are part of the job, such as:

  • Weather: rain, lightning and high winds can increase the risk of an accident.
  • Heavy equipment: many of the tools and equipment present a chance of serious injury or death to both the operator and nearby workers.
  • Heights: construction workers are often working at great heights and even when on the ground they risk being struck by falling equipment or debris.
  • A changing landscape: what may have been solid ground yesterday could be a 50-foot hole today.

However, health and safety officials have been working for decades to protect workers from these hazards. New York scrutinizes construction work especially closely because of the tight spaces and high population density. Countless laws and ordinances have been passed to make the industry safer, but unfortunately they mean nothing if construction companies continue failing to ensure safety measures.

The truth is that these fatal construction accidents will continue to occur as long as construction companies and foremen bypass important safety practices to save them time and money. Government and workers’ rights organizations can only do so much. Ultimately, the responsibility of worker safety falls upon the employer.

Latinos, Hispanics Often Victims of Construction-Safety Violations

Unfortunately, Latino construction-worker injuries and deaths remain common in the construction industry. The BLS reports that workplace accidents killed 668 Latinos in 2009, accounting for 15 percent of all job-related fatalities. Latinos endure a workplace fatality rate of 3.7 per 100,000, the highest of any ethnic group.

Experts propose many different reasons for the disproportionate risk that Hispanic or Latino construction workers face. Some of their reasons include:

  • Communication barriers – Spanish-speaking workers may not understand all English warnings or instructions. However, employers should accept the responsibility of providing sufficient communication to their workers, even if it means having an on-site translator or bilingual foreman.
  • Undocumented status: Construction companies often seek the labor of undocumented workers – sometimes referred to as illegal aliens – who came from Central or South American countries such as Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras. Construction companies know that these undocumented Latino workers will not report safety violations, out of fear of deportation.
  • Hardworking nature: Some experts believe that construction companies take advantage of the hard-working and non-complaining traits of Latinos by putting them up to dangerous tasks without the necessary safety precautions in place.

Regardless of the cause, Latino construction workers suffer a heightened risk of serious injury or death. Fortunately, all injured Latinos have legal rights in America.

All Injured Latino Workers Have Legal Rights to Recovery

It does not matter whether the Latino worker is a first or second-generation American, or whether the hurt worker has documented or undocumented status. The lack of a work-permit, visa or green card has no bearing on an injured worker’s entitlement to damages when they suffer a work injury. And when a Latino worker dies from a workplace accident, his surviving family is entitled to legal recovery as well.

If you have been seriously injured while working at your job, it is crucial to contact a skilled New York personal injury attorney. Do not hesitate; you can confidentially consult with an independent lawyer and it will not appear in your employment files. The attorney will share information to help you obtain adequate compensation for your work-related injury or loved one’s death.

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Construction Site Safety In New York

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has levied fines against two companies after an accident permanently blinded a construction worker. Fernando Fernandez was working on the Long Wharf Bridge when rebar used to reinforce a concrete pier came detached, striking him and causing multiple serious injuries. He is currently recovering.

Dangerous Workplaces

Construction sites are dangerous place. According to OSHA, accidental construction deaths account for 24 percent of the annual 5,000 workplace deaths nationwide. While most construction site deaths are caused by falls, other common causes include trench and scaffold collapse, electrocution, and arc flash.

In New York, the incidence of construction deaths is higher than the national average. Thirty-one construction workers died on the job in New York in 2008, an 11 percent increase at a time when the nationwide rate declined 10 percent.

Third Parties May Be Liable

When negligence results in a construction worker’s death in New York, workers’ compensation is the sole avenue for seeking compensation from the employer. However, in many cases, there are other parties who bear some responsibility and may be liable to the family of the deceased construction worker. Lawsuits may be filed against the site owner, equipment owners or the general contractor in appropriate cases, allowing the family of the deceased worker to recover damages from the parties whose negligence caused the death.

New York Labor Law § 240 (1) requires contractors, owners and their agents to erect “scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, and other devices which shall be so constructed, placed and operated as to give proper protection” to construction workers. Violation of this law is the basis of many suits by construction workers killed by falls resulting from improperly secured scaffolding or by falling objects. It imposes absolute liability on contractors and owners, even if the construction worker was negligent.

In Cahill v. The Triborough Bridge, the court narrowed the effect of the absolute liability statute to exclude recovery by workers properly trained with respect to safety who chose not to use protection that is readily available to them and are killed or injured as a result.

New York’s statute governing wrongful death sets forth the damages that may be recovered by specified relatives of a deceased person in wrongful death cases. The damages include the future financial support the deceased would have provided, loss of services, loss of a parent’s guidance, and funeral and medical expenses.

Contact An Attorney For More Information

If you or someone you love has been injured in a construction accident, contact an experienced personal injury attorney. A lawyer experienced in handling construction accident cases can help you receive the compensation you deserve.

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