As a construction worker, you face one of the highest chances of sustaining severe or fatal injuries while on the job. When not fatal, construction accidents can result in debilitating injuries resulting in lost wages, sky-high and life-long medical expenses, the inability to care for oneself, the loss of enjoyment of life, and other damages.
If you are all too familiar with the consequences of a construction accident, you may wonder if you can file a legal claim for damages outside of workers’ compensation. The answer depends on several factors. An experienced accident attorney can help you understand your rights, explore your options, and position you for a comfortable and complete recovery.
Common Construction Site Injuries
Due to the nature of their work, construction workers are no strangers to accidents and injuries. Fortunately, many of these injuries are minor and require little more support than what a bandage or some gauze can offer. Some accidents, however, result in damages that can have severe and lasting complications. Though construction site injuries can take many forms, the most common that fall within the “moderate to severe” category are as follows:
- Broken Bones: Falls from ladders. Crushing by heavy objects. Blunt force impact. These occurrences are all too common on construction sites, and they often result in fractures and broken bones. The severity of a broken bone can range from a hairline fracture to a break in which the bone sticks out of the skin. Regardless of the severity, broken bones require time to heal — during which the injured party cannot work — and costly medical care. If they do not heal properly, breaks can also result in life-long mobility issues.
- Burns: Chemical exposure, gas explosions, open flames, flying sparks, welding accidents, and electrical mishaps are everyday events on construction sites. These types of events can result in moderate to severe burns that require immediate medical attention. In some cases, the burns may be so bad as to penetrate the underlying muscle and bone. These types of burns — known as third-degree burns — typically require surgical intervention and leave permanent scars.
- Amputation: Because of the frequent use of power tools and heavy equipment, amputation is a genuine risk that construction workers face almost daily. Though prosthetics are available, many workers find they cannot return to the construction field after losing a limb. Others live with chronic pain, while yet others experience phantom limb syndrome.
- Traumatic Brain Injuries: The law requires construction workers to wear hard hats while on the job. Yet, despite these precautions, the construction industry continues to see the most significant number of fatal and non-fatal TBIs than any other industry in the U.S. The number of construction-related TBI deaths between 2003 and 2010 represented 25% of all construction fatalities and 24% of all occupational TBI fatalities. Approximately 50% of fatal work-related TBIs resulted from falls from ladders, roofs, and scaffolds. The remaining were the result of blows to the head, heavy equipment accidents, and the like. TBIs can have short- and long-term consequences, including loss of consciousness, fatigue, memory issues, headache, confusion, sleep problems, seizures, and personality changes.
- Spinal Cord Injuries: Spinal cord injuries are typically the result of a penetrating wound or significant blow to any part of the spine or head. They are also a consequence of falls from a considerable height. Spinal cord injuries can damage the nerves that transmit signals from the brain to other body areas. As a result, they often result in loss of mobility and function and, in extreme cases, paralysis.
Whether dealing with a broken bone, burn, or brain injury due to your construction accident, you will likely accrue extensive medical bills. Not only that, but you may live with long-term or possibly lifelong consequences. An accident attorney can help you understand your rights and explore your options for recovery.
How Construction Site Accidents Occur: The Fatal Four
According to OSHA, approximately 20% — or one in five — workplace fatalities occur in the construction field. In 2019, 1,061 construction workers lost their lives due to work-related accidents. That amounts to nearly three worker deaths per day. To say that construction work is dangerous is an understatement. However, some aspects of this type of work are more complex than others. According to OSHA, 60% of all construction accidents result from one of The Fatal Four.
Though the number of fatal falls that occur on construction sites varies from year to year, falls continually rank as the number one cause of construction site accidents and fatalities, accounting for anywhere between 36% and 40% of construction-related deaths. It is not uncommon for construction workers to perform work at great heights and on slippery surfaces, contributing to their fall risk. Though OSHA has several regulations to prevent falls, falls continue to occur, often because workers fail to use proper protection or adhere to safety protocol.
Electrocutions account for between 7% and 9% of construction-related deaths each year. Construction workers are frequently exposed to open and faulty wiring. Because of this, they are four times more likely to be electrocuted than workers in other industries. Though electrocutions are often fatal, if they are not, they can leave a person with severe burns, spinal cord injuries, or brain damage.
Struck By Object
Struck-by-object accidents account for approximately 10% of all annual fatal construction site accidents. Construction workers routinely work nearby and around several pieces of heavy equipment, moving machinery, and hefty materials. Equipment and machine operators typically have a limited field of vision from their posts, which means it is up to ground crews to look out for themselves. A single moment of inattention could have lifelong and devastating consequences.
Heavy equipment and machinery are not the only culprits of struck-by accidents. Hammers, nail guns, and falling or flying objects are also common causes of construction accidents.
Caught-in-between accidents occur when workers get wedged between the moving components of a piece of machinery or when they get stuck in-between or under project materials. Though the least common of the fatal four, caught-in-between accidents almost always result in death. If workers survive this type of accident, they may live with permanent disfigurement, amputation, brain or spinal cord injuries, or all of the above.
OSHA has dozens of safety measures and regulations in place to prevent The Fatal Four and other common types of construction site accidents. Unfortunately, due to management oversight, lack of training, and negligence, these types of accidents continue to happen at an alarming rate.
Why Construction Site Accidents Happen
The best way regulatory agencies and employers can prevent construction site accidents — and the best way you, as a construction worker, can avoid falling victim to them — is by understanding why they occur in the first place. Though the accident rate within the construction industry will never be 0%, most construction-related injuries and fatalities can be prevented through knowledge. Check out the top reasons construction accidents occur and what you can do to keep yourself out of harm’s way:
- Inadequate Safety Equipment: Inadequate safety equipment is one of the top reasons construction workers sustain on-the-job injuries. OSHA requires employers across all industries to provide proper safety equipment and, along with it, adequate training on how to use it. When an employee fails to use safety equipment as instructed — or at all — they are at an increased risk of sustaining the types of injuries the equipment was designed to prevent. If you engage in a job that requires special safety equipment, make sure you know how to use it appropriately before you get to work.
- Inadequate Training: Insufficient training in tools, equipment, safety protocol, and other relevant areas is the leading cause of construction accidents. Though it is your employer’s job to provide you with appropriate training and education, you can protect yourself by keeping track of training requirements as they pertain to your industry and position. If you feel ill-prepared to engage in certain work activities, mention your concerns to your supervisor and request a refresher course or additional training.
- Environmental Hazards: Construction sites are inherently dangerous. Though property owners and employers have a duty to keep sites as safe as possible, there are specific hazards they cannot prevent, such as natural dangers. Wet surfaces due to rain, unstable foundations due to mudslides, lightning strikes, and other weather events can contribute to work-related accidents.
- Faulty Equipment and Tools: When power tools and heavy equipment malfunction, the consequences may entail more than mere inconvenience. Defective equipment can result in amputation, deep wounds, penetrating wounds, and other severe injuries. Always wear appropriate safety equipment when operating tools or heavy equipment, and double-check their maintenance logs to check for potential issues and the last service date.
When employers and employees work together, they can prevent most construction accidents. However, the oversight of just a single party can have devastating consequences.
Seeking Damages Through Workers’ Compensation
Per New York law, all employers operating in the state must carry workers’ compensation insurance coverage. This is true regardless of how many employees an employer employs, what type of work the employer engages and whether employees are full- or part-time. The purpose of workers’ compensation is to guarantee workers’ rights to medical treatment, lost wages, and vocational retraining if they sustain an on-the-job injury, regardless of fault.
Suppose your employer carries workers’ compensation insurance; your only option for recovery maybe through this type of coverage. Workers’ compensation covers economic damages only, which means you can only recover for losses such as medical costs, disability, lost wages, and vocational retraining.
Medical expenses will likely be your most significant loss as a result of your work-related injury. Depending on the extent of your injuries, medical expenses can range from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. They can entail immediate, one-time costs or ongoing expenses. Regardless of the nature of your medical care, medical care is necessary to help you get back on your feet. In addition to visits to the doctor, this category of damages also covers essential medications, medical devices, transportation to and from the hospital, surgery, and other medical-related expenses.
Work-related injuries account for an average of 11 missed workdays per person in the United States. While how much work you miss depends mainly on the type and extent of your injuries, you can count on missing at least a week or two. Though you need this time to recover, you also need the wages to pay for living and medical expenses.
New York workers’ compensation law mandates employers compensate injured workers for any time they miss due to work-related injuries. If you cannot work only temporarily, you may receive two-thirds of your average weekly wage multiplied by the percentage of your disability, up to the state’s maximum of $870.61 (This figure is likely to change annually.). So, for instance, if you typically earn $900 per week and have a disability rating of 100%, you would receive $600 per week until you can return to work.
You may continue to work at a reduced capacity and receive lost wages for your injury. However, the insurer would reduce your benefits accordingly.
Suppose your workers’ compensation doctor determines that your injuries have caused permanent disability or that you will be unable to work for at least a year. In that case, the law entitles you to disability benefits. Depending on the extent of your disability and its permanence, you may receive disability benefits for up to 10 years of life.
Unfortunately, your injuries may prevent you from working in the construction industry ever again. If this is the case, and if you cannot find a position that pays at least 80% of your previous wages, your employer’s workers’ comp coverage must cover the cost of vocational retraining. Retraining may include certification courses, technical training, or college courses, among other forms of education.
Seeking Damages Outside of Workers’ Compensation
Sadly, due to the nature and extent of construction site injuries, many injured workers find that workers’ compensation benefits fall significantly short of their actual losses. If this is the case for you, you may wonder what, if any, options you have to recover compensation outside of workers’ compensation.
Third parties you may sue for your construction accident injuries include but are not limited to property owners, subcontractors, and equipment suppliers. Though your options are limited, experienced construction accident lawyers can assess your situation and identify possibly liable third parties.
There are very few instances in which you may sue a third party for damages. However, that does not mean that the option is not there. Below are a few instances in which a third-party claim may be viable.
A General Contractor or Sub Violated a New York Labor Law
There are three sections of the New York Labor Code that specifically address construction site safety. Those are as follows:
- Section 200: Section 200 mandates that construction company owners provide all workers with a safe working environment. It also says that companies are liable for site visitors’ safety. They must ensure that appropriate measures are in place before allowing non-workers to enter a project area.
- Section 240: Section 240 details the safety standards for equipment, such as ladders and scaffolding, that are in place to prevent falls.
- Section 241: Section 241 details the safety rules and regulations for equipment use, safety features, and protocol pertaining Though your options are limited, an experienced construction accident lawyer can assess your situation and identify possibly liable third parties to floors, demolition, excavation, and hoisting devices.
If a GC or subcontractor violates any of New York’s laws, and if the violation leads to an accident that causes your injury, you may be able to sue the negligent party outside of the workers’ compensation system. A construction accident lawyer can help you investigate the incident and determine if you have a case.
New York labor laws are not the only laws in place to protect construction workers against preventable injuries. OSHA regulations, the state’s industrial codes, and several widely accepted safety standards exist to prevent catastrophic workplace accidents. When you partner with our construction accident law firm, one of our skilled lawyers can investigate the cause of your accident and determine if a safety violation took place. If it did, you might have a third-party claim. This would be the case even if the accident were the result of a breach that you committed. This is because your employer, project owners, and other parties are responsible for ensuring that everyone adheres to safety regulations. Failure to oversee workers’ actions is a form of negligence in and of itself.
The project owner must maintain a safe worksite for contractors, subcontractors, and visitors alike. A large part of this responsibility entails making sure that everything from tools to heavy equipment to materials is arranged in such a way as to create the safest work environment possible. If a responsible party failed to engage in suitable housekeeping activities, and if said failure caused your accident, the law may entitle you to pursue damages against the at-fault party.
Pursuing damages from a third party for your construction accident injuries will not be easy. However, with a skilled lawyer on your side, it will not be impossible either. An aggressive attorney can explore your compensation options, of which there are many. Some parties from which you may recover damages include your employer’s liability insurance, commercial general liability insurance, premises liability insurance, products liability insurance, commercial auto insurance, disability insurance, and professional liability insurance.
New York Workers’ Compensation Survivor Benefits
Losing a loved one is never easy. If you recently lost a loved one due to a work-related construction site accident, you may feel overwhelmed, angry, and unsure of how to proceed. However, when that loved one contributed to half or 100% of household expenses, you may feel the loss even more acutely. This is because, instead of being able to grieve properly, you must focus on how you will make ends meet on a reduced or non-existent income.
Though no amount of compensation will undo your loss, it can help you through this difficult time and give you room to grieve appropriately. For this reason, the New York workers’ compensation law provides survivor benefits.
Survivor Benefits Amount
The purpose of workers’ compensation survivor benefits — otherwise known as death benefits — is to compensate surviving family members of work-accident victims for funeral expenses and lost wages. Families of construction accident victims may receive between $10,500 and $12,500 in funeral expenses, depending on the county or neighborhood in which the deceased performed work. Surviving spouses and children are also eligible for weekly income replacement payments, which total two-thirds of the deceased’s average weekly wages for the prior year. As with standard lost wages benefits, the Workers’ Compensation Board sets a maximum weekly amount.
Not everyone who loses a loved one in a work-related accident in New York is eligible for survivor benefits. New York law limits survivor benefit eligibility to the following surviving family members of the deceased worker:
If the deceased worker does not have any surviving loved ones who classify as any of the above, the payments may go to their estate.
When a Surviving Spouse Does Not Qualify for Benefits
There are instances in which a surviving spouse no longer qualifies for benefits. For example, if the spouse of a now-deceased construction worker filed for divorce before the worker’s death, the state will disqualify them from receiving death benefits. Likewise, if the spouse abandoned the worker before the accident or death, individuals would receive the benefits next in line.
Beneficiaries of survivor benefits may receive compensation for the remainder of their lives. However, if a surviving spouse remarries, the workers’ compensation insurer will cease paying weekly benefits and instead issue a lump sum payment. This payment is equivalent to two years’ worth of benefits.
When and Why To Hire a Construction Accident Lawyer
Suppose you or a loved one were involved in a construction accident that resulted in severe, disabling, and possibly life-long injuries. In that case, you may wonder if you should hire a construction accident attorney. The short answer is yes.
A construction accident can turn your life upside down. Even though the law entitles you to workers’ compensation benefits, there is no guarantee that the insurer will off you a fair and just settlement. If your situation qualifies for third-party benefits, you have an even more significant challenge to overcome. The team at a reputable construction accident law firm in New York can help you overcome any obstacles you may face on your path to recovery and fight to ensure you recover the benefits you need to heal wholly and in comfort. Below are a few other benefits of retaining the help of an experienced attorney.
Get an Accurate Idea of the Value of Your Claim
Too many injured persons never question the settlement amount insurers propose. Seasoned attorneys, however, do. A skilled lawyer has dealt with dozens, if not hundreds, of cases similar to yours and can give you an accurate idea of how much your claim is worth. They will assess your damages, negotiate on your behalf and ensure that you recover the compensation you deserve.
Protect Your Rights
The law entitles injured workers to pursue compensation via workers’ compensation, third-party claims, or both. Unfortunately, it does not make it easy for them to do so. Strict timelines and filing requirements characterize both workers’ comp law and personal injury law. If you miss any deadlines or fail to meet the needs, you may unwittingly forfeit your rights to recovery. Even if you have time to correct your mistakes, such mistakes can delay your financial recovery, which, in turn, can hinder your physical recovery. A construction accident attorney is familiar with all the applicable rules and procedures that apply to your case and will ensure you take the necessary steps at the appropriate times.
Speed Up the Claims Process
It is unfortunate when faced with an individual who does not know the law. However, when an attorney enters the picture, the whole process goes exponentially faster, which means a quicker recovery for you.
The most significant insurance companies take their time reviewing and paying out claims benefit of working with an experienced construction accident lawyer. Lawyers typically secure the best outcomes in construction accident cases. If you do not want to risk your health or your chance, do not attempt to pursue compensation on your own. Team up with a legal team with the experience and stamina to win against insurers and their legal teams and win.
Were You Involved in a Construction Accident?
Were you involved in a construction accident that turned your health and your life upside down? If so, do not entrust your case to just any law firm. Entrust it to a construction accident law firm with a long track record of success with these types of cases. That will put its resources and experience to work to help you secure the maximum amount of compensation. Entrust your case to William Schwitzer & Associates. Contact our law office today to schedule your free initial consultation.