Most workplaces have policies making safety everyone’s responsibility and signs advising workers to identify safety hazards. The law is more limited in its approach. When workers become deceased or seriously injured while acting within the course and scope of their employment, the injured workers must receive compensation for their injuries.
A Note on Workers’ Compensation
Employers in all 50 states are required to cover employees under their workers’ compensation insurance policies, which provide benefits to the employee in the event of the employee’s injury while on the job. Such benefits include compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and benefits payable upon one’s death. This labor-related law was designed to proved an economically viable alternative to costly litigation between employees and employers. As a result, workers’ compensation coverage generally forecloses civil litigation arising from workplace accidents.
Workers covered under workers’ compensation are generally not eligible to sue for injuries sustained in workplace accidents. However, the construction industry commonly uses laborers who are not fully documented, as well as subcontractors for many tasks. Independent contractors are not covered under workers’ compensation statutes, making them eligible to file claims for negligence.
Types of Construction Accidents
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 4,069 Americans were killed on the job in 2011. Of these, 17.5 percent involve construction accidents. Falls comprise 35 percent of construction accidents while blunt-force injuries, electrocution, and crush injuries comprise 10, 9, and 3 percent respectively. In other words, most construction accidents involve a mixture of workers making mistakes and errors in oversight.
However, not every accident involves negligence on the job site. Crane accidents and structural failures can occur if the materials do not meet the advertised specification. Bolts that are too hard or too soft can have greatly reduced shear strength, improperly treated steel can rust quickly, and poorly prefabricated materials can have poor welding and substandard materials.
Whether the accident occurs as a result of on-site negligence or a bad lot of materials or equipment, businesses must be prepared to deal with the aftermath. If someone dies or becomes seriously injured while on site and if that person is not covered under workers’ compensation insurance, many parties are likely to be named defendants in a lawsuit for negligence. Negligence is a tort involving conduct that fails to meet the appropriate standard of care.
Who is theoretically liable for a construction-related injury depends upon the nature and the cause of the injury.
If the incident occurs as a result of a worker’s failure to check a blind spot or perform work at a satisfactory level, the worker will be liable for the damages and his or her employer will be vicariously liable; the employer will also be liable for its own negligence in failing to train or supervise the employee. If a defective item caused the incident, the manufacturer will be held responsible for the manufacturing, design or marketing defect. If the defect was something that a reasonable reseller or installer would have noticed, the supplier or installer may also be liable for negligence for failing to notice the defect.
Whether the incident involves a major crane collapse or structural failure or a worker’s foot being injured by a forklift, the avenue of recovery is the same. In practice, construction accidents often involve failures on multiple levels. Poorly trained employees, poor supervision, and in some cases, poor equipment can combine to create an unnecessary workplace tragedy. In identifying which party is responsible for the injury, the law seeks to identify the party that failed to adhere to industry standards and acted unreasonably.