Nobody is immune to a workplace injury - it can happen to anyone at any time. However, some industries pose a higher risk potential than others. The construction industry is one such dangerous industry, where workers work with and are surrounded by complex machinery and heavy equipment all day. That is one of the reasons why construction site accidents happen so frequently at refineries, steel plants, chemical plants and similar sites than in any other industry. In fact, one in every six workplace injuries happens on a construction site.
When someone is hurt or killed on a construction site, the injured worker or their spouses or next of kin may bring a lawsuit for:
- loss of consortium
- damages for loss of society
- comfort and care of the injured party.
The law determines which type of compensation may be available to you. As a bystander who happens to be injured on the scene of a construction site, you may be able to use personal injury law to claim compensation for your injuries. The parties found at fault for your injuries will be responsible for paying damages. As a construction employee, the process is more complex. As a construction worker, your injuries are compensated directly through your company, or in some cases, you may pursue a civil third party claim. The California Workers' Compensation Act provides one source of compensation for workers.
Common Construction Site Injuries
Construction workers do heavy physical work, including earthmoving, excavation, and trenching which involve moving heavy items that can lead to overexertion and strain. This is the number one cause of construction site accidents that often result in individuals requiring time off work, either temporarily or permanently.
Permanent injuries that may render you unable to return to your former employment in the construction industry, may include:
- fractured bones
- nerve damage or paralysis
- partial or complete blindness
- loss of limbs or amputation
- traumatic head injuries.
Accidents where workers are struck by equipment or objects are the second-most frequent accident cited on construction sites. Falls are the third most prevalent type of construction site accident that results in serious injuries, and it may be caused by:
- failure to mark floor openings
- lack of appropriate harnesses and railings
- improperly constructed scaffolding
- and similar issues.
Electrical hazards are present on most construction sites, as projects take place in close proximity of power lines, and workers use electric equipment and power tools to perform their jobs. This means that electrocution is a real and significant risk on construction sites. Companies are required to provide comprehensive electrical safety training and take the necessary precautions to ensure work site safety, including:
- installing proper grounding and insulation
- marking power lines clearly
- shutting off the power supply to a line as needed.
The construction industry constantly leads with the highest fatality rate, and workers and their families are often left devastated by the effects of an injury or death.
Construction Site Accidents in California
Every year, construction sites throughout the United States see thousands of accidents that might lead to injuries and death of their workers, despite the guidelines laid down by the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Construction workers place much faith into the hands of their employers in terms of ensuring the safety of a workplace. A major part of it is taking the necessary steps to avoid accidents on construction sites, however, this can be difficult because of the many moving parts involved in making a success of a construction project, including engineers, architects, contractors and subcontractors and equipment suppliers and manufacturers each bringing their own expertise to the site.
Subcontractors are responsible for maintaining equipment and failure to do so can lead to catastrophic and potentially fatal injuries. Work safety regulations and training are also in place to help protect workers, but lax standards can lead to accidents. No matter how closely guidelines are followed, accidents sometimes happen for unforeseen reasons - these are events which nobody can necessarily predict or prevent.
No matter what caused the accident, workers' compensation law in California is in place to help provide financial cover for workers' medical expenses and loss of earnings for the time they are unable to work.
Steps to Take After a Construction Site Injury
If there is a work accident and you don't recognize an injury right away, you should still report it to management or to the department responsible. If an injury becomes obvious later on, your initial report will help alleviate problems.
When a construction site injury occurs, you should immediately report it to management and request medical treatment. Your employer is required by law to provide medical treatment for any job-related injuries, even if you do not miss work because of the injury.
Employed workers in California are entitled to a variety of benefits after construction site accidents, and an expert in the field of workers' compensation can provide case specific information on the available coverage and limitations.
Can Workers Sue Employers for Construction Site Injuries?
Construction companies are required by law to carry workers' compensation insurance. This insurance provides the necessary cover for employees, but it also prohibits injured workers from suing their employers and co-workers for work-related injuries caused by events or incidents such as:
- chemical spills
- fallen construction materials
- collapsed trenches or scaffolding
- arc flash
- blows to the head
- high pressure release
- slips and falls
- falls from heights
- electric shock
- and other freak accidents.
Typically, employees can only claim compensation from employers directly through the workers' compensation insurance. In extremely rare cases can employees sue their employers for damages due to actionable negligence. Actionable negligence is limited in scope in terms of what can and can't be considered actionable.
However, if the worker can prove that the negligence of a third party resulted in the injury, the third party may be held liable. Workers' compensation is available:
- if the employee was personally negligent;
- if the employer was negligent;
- or if a certain condition that caused the accident was not the fault of anyone.
Third party claims may be made against liable third parties, such as:
- construction companies
- property owners
- automobile owners
- insurance companies
- government agencies.
Third party suits allow workers to recover damages for a broad range of issues, including:
- current and future medical costs
- loss of earnings
- impairment of earning capacity
- loss of consortium
- pain and loss.
As such, a third party case enables the injured worker to claim much more than what he or she might get through workers' compensation alone. However, the injured individual carries the burden of proving negligence, which may not necessarily be straightforward.
If you pursue a third party claim and you are granted damages, your employer's company may take a cut to recover your workers' compensation payments. Alternatively, they may join you in the suit, which will strengthen your case.
Construction Site Accidents & Liability
General contractors and subcontractors alike are required to adhere to OSHA safety requirements prescribed for a reasonably safe site and:
- to provide adequate warning of inherent site hazards;
- to hire responsible, careful employees;
- to coordinate site and job safety;
- to supervise safety specification compliance.
Construction equipment manufacturers have to design and maintain safe products, including:
- gas detectors
- pressure vessels
- heavy equipment
- back hoes
- woodworking tools
- power tools
- and scaffolding.
When defective products result in a construction site injury, an Orange County workers' compensation lawyer with experience in personal injury law can provide you with the best advice based on your specific case.
If you feel that an equipment manufacturer, architect or construction site owner is responsible for the accident that led to your construction site injury and you wish to sue them, you should speak to a personal injury specialist who can advise on the validity of your claim based on the merits of your claim.
It is important to understand that the workers' compensation system does not provide compensation for pain and suffering, which is common in serious or catastrophic injuries. However, you may be able to claim compensation from the third party that was responsible for the dangerous condition that led to the accident.
California is a no-fault state, which means that your employee does not have to be to blame for the accident which led to your injury in order for you to receive compensation.
Compensation for Construction Site Injuries
After a construction site accident, you may be wondering what expenses are needed. Hospital bills will most certainly be covered, as will loss of income for the time during which you are unable to work.
However, in the case of serious construction site injuries, you are bound to require future medical treatment. Future rehabilitation therapies will cost money too, and you should receive sufficient compensation to cover that as well. Although a value may be assigned for pain and suffering, workers' compensation may not cover that.
Construction Site Injuries: Your Rights Under Workers' Comp
It has recently become more difficult for construction workers to obtain adequate compensation, which is why many have opted for third party liability claims in civil courts. While workers' compensation is limited to formal employees and not to part time workers, commision-only workers, and self-employed individuals, third party claims offer broader coverage. However, in order to increase the likelihood of a successful third party claim, you will have to work with an experienced California workers' compensation attorney.
Workers' Compensation will strongly encourage you to see their affiliated doctors who may only offer limited treatment instead of allowing you to receive the complete medical treatment you need. A third party claim will allow you to choose your own doctors who are not taking orders from your employer or their insurance company.
However, liability will have to be determined, which is why you need to approach a construction accident lawyer with a firm grasp of all the relevant state, federal and Occupational Safety and Health laws and regulations that govern construction sites. A general contractor's liability is not based solely on their failure to warn workers of a dangerous condition on the site. However, owners or general contractors may be found liable for failure to correct dangerous conditions, especially if it were obvious to construction workers and could pose risk of injury, knowing that the workers would encounter the danger during the fulfillment of their job requirements.
If the owner or general contractor handed over complete control to a subcontractor, their duty may be reduced and shifted to the subcontractor. However, they may remain liable for the dangerous situation if they:
- or their employee personally created the dangerous condition;
- were notified of the conditions or discovered it through reasonable inspections and did not take reasonable actions to provide safety measures;
- were aware of the fact that subcontractors' work resulted in a dangerous condition that may possibly occur again in the absence of appropriate precautions.
If the conduct of of the wrongdoer is found to be malicious, fraudulent, or despicable, California law entitles the injured worker to recover punitive damages. In these cases, the focus tends to be on wrongdoing, rather than on the injury. Punitive damages will be based on the level of heinousness of the misconduct as well as on the defendant's economic status.
Seeking Damages After a Construction Accident
Injured construction workers should ideally bring personal injury cases within one year of the accident, or in rare cases, within one year of the date on which wrongdoing or an injury is discovered. Cases against public entities must be brought within six months of the date on which the accident occured.
Taking photos, videos and notes regarding the accident site as well as the events leading up to the accident will go a long way towards a smooth investigation. Ideally, the accident site should be quarantined to help preserve any evidence. Witness statements and names of any material suppliers, contractors and subcontractors on the scene should be included in your notes, along with their contact details.
It can be extremely difficult to navigate a construction accident claim and understand your rights and obligations. Discussing your personal situation with an expert Orange County Workers Compensation Attorney can provide you with peace of mind, knowing that you have access to accurate information. Call us today at 949-423-3212 to schedule an initial conversation.