According to the United States Department of Labor, construction site falls are one of the most common causes of construction worker fatality. On average, more than 300 workers die each year from workplace falls, and more than 10,000 are seriously injured. More than two-thirds of the accidents happen at companies that have 10 or fewer employees.
Many construction site falls are preventable. Companies can take steps to prevent falls on their worksites:
- Before each and every job, plan ahead to do the job safely
- Provide the right equipment for working in a high place
- Train workers to use the equipment properly and to work safely on roofs, scaffolds, and ladders, and around elevator shafts, stairs and stairwells
Where Do Construction Site Falls Occur?
As the name suggests, construction site falls occur on construction sites. Notably, not every area of a construction site is equally dangerous. There are some areas on a site where a person has a higher statistical possibility of a dangerous fall.
These areas include:
Can I Recover Damages for a Construction Fall?
Workers’ compensation usually covers injuries incurred on the job. Workers’ comp will cover a fall that was accidental, for instance. A variety of expenses can be paid on your behalf: replacement of lost income, medical expenses, rehabilitation. If you end up completely unable to work again, you can be awarded long-term or lump sum disability payments. It is not necessary to prove that the employer did anything wrong, or caused the injury in some way. There are only two requirements: you must be an employee, and the injury has to be work-related.
Sometimes the fall occurred because someone was at fault. In those cases, it is possible to sue the offender. There are two legal theories that could cover a construction fall injury:
- Negligence, where the fall was caused by someone who was not properly careful
- Strict liability, where those who created or sold a dangerous defective item are held liable for their wrongdoing.
What is Negligence?
Negligence is the legal theory that allows injured persons to recover for the carelessness or recklessness of others. There are four requirements to prove a negligence case:
- Duty: This refers to the level of care that is owed to one person by another. In terms of a personal injury lawsuit, it must be shown that the defendant owed the plaintiff a legal duty of care under the circumstances. This can be influenced by different factors, such as the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant.
- Breach: The person or company failed to act with reasonable care. This standard is based on how an average, reasonable person would responsibly act in a similar situation. In the case of a construction fall, perhaps the employer failed to instruct workers on detailed safety procedures and provide them with training, or didn’t outfit the construction site with basic safety equipment, such as guard rails, safety netting, and safety harnesses for workers.
- Causation: The defendant’s behavior must be what caused the injury, both in terms of “cause in fact”(was the failure to take safety steps the real cause of the injury? And “proximate cause” (was the injury foreseeable?) In some cases both parties may have had part of the fault of causing the accident. That does not mean that the lawsuit cannot be won, but only that the plaintiff’s damages will be reduced by whatever part the judge or jury finds was their part.
- Damages: There must have been some damage that occurred. That could include medical bills, lost days of work, or more. In some cases, money may be awarded for the plaintiff’s pain and suffering. This is most common when the defendant was not just careless, but was reckless.
- If the defendant’s behavior was especially egregious, remedies may include an order to pay “punitive damages.” These are very high money awards, meant to penalize the defendant. Particularly when collected from a corporation, these damages can be quite high, often many times the cost of the out-of-pocket damages.
What is Strict Liability?
Strict liability is a legal doctrine that holds a party responsible for their actions or products, without the plaintiff having to prove fault. Strict liability (product liability) is the legal doctrine that holds that manufacturers of some inherently risky products can be held liable for any injury that their product causes.
The product needs to have been defective. An example might be a ladder that was manufactured in a way that the steps could crack and break, and someone was high on a ladder when the step broke right under them. Both the manufacturer and the seller of the product can be sued.
What are Defective Products?
In general, there are two main types of product defects that a construction fall injury may demonstrate:
- Design defects: Design defects arise in the original creation of a product. A product may have been designed in a manner that is inherently flawed. Perhaps it was designed that the steps on the ladder would be made out of something that was wrong for that use.
- Manufacturing defects: On the other hand, a manufacturing defect may have nothing to do with how a product was designed, but rather how it was manufactured. In other words, the design may be perfectly safe, but the way that the manufacturer assembled the product made it unsafe. Perhaps the material the steps were supposed to be made of was correct, but the ladder manufacturing plant’s manager read it wrong and bought the wrong type of material.
What is a Class Action Lawsuit?
If a product has harmed a large number of people, instead of having each person sue the manufacturer, seller or employer personally, the injured parties could file a class action lawsuit. A class action suit is a lawsuit that is filed by representative(s) of the injured people, people who have the same or very similar claims.
Class action lawsuits can be complicated to manage, but they are popular because they help to reduce the costs of suing the defendant. For example, only one set of lawyers will have to be paid, rather than all the lawyers that would be needed for each injured person to sue individually. In addition, filing fees and costs are split between a lot of people.
On the other hand, if there is a really large group of people in the class, each individual’s portion of the damages may be minimal. A single damage award will be made, and people who were injured by the product will share the award. Other remedies may include a product recall.
Do I Need an Attorney?
If you or a loved one has been injured in a construction accident, and you believe it is the fault of your employer or the manufacturer or seller of a defective product, contact an attorney.
An experienced personal injury lawyer may be able to help you recover for your medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and possibly even punitive damages. Remember that when it comes to filing a lawsuit there is always a time limit, so contact a workplace injury attorney before it is too late.