Construction Accidents

Construction site accidents are very common and often very serious. A construction site is filled with dangerous equipment which if used or maintained improperly, can bring about catastrophic accidents. Common accidents involve defective hoists; elevators; electrocution; elevated falls; explosions; improper use of forklifts; ladders; heavy equipment; nail guns; scaffolding and welding equipment; among others.

Sadly, most injured workers do not realize that they might have a claim beyond Workers' Compensation. Workers' Compensation pays for injured workers' medical bills and lost income following an accident. For this to work, all employers are required to pay Workers' Compensation insurance, and those premiums are collected and paid to injured workers should the need arise. As a trade off, workers are rarely permitted to sue their employer for worksite injuries. With minor exception, the only time a worker can sue his employer for a jobsite injury, is if the employer engaged in "gross negligence." Gross negligence borders on criminal conduct, and essentially describes intentional conduct designed to cause the employee's injury. As you can imagine, this is a difficult burden for a plaintiff to prove at trial, and if proven, the employer's insurance company will often disclaim coverage.

Notwithstanding, injured workers can sue other third parties for their negligent involvement in causing or contributing to their accident. Those parties might include the property owner, subcontractors, architects, engineers, general contractors, and inspectors, among many others.

While construction accidents can be sued under common law theories of general negligence, New York also provides legal protections to injured workers under Labor Law sections 200, 240(1) and 241(6). Labor Law §200 imposes a duty to provide a safe place to work and requires that workplaces be "constructed, equipped, arranged, operated and conducted as to provide reasonable and adequate protection."

Labor Law §240(1) imposes "absolute liability" on owners, general contractors and their agents to furnish specific safety devices which must be constructed, placed and operated to protect workers. Specifically, Labor Law §240(1) provides:

all contractors and owners and their agents, except owners of one and two-family dwellings who contract for but do not direct or control the work, in the erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building or structure shall furnish or erect, or cause to be furnished or erected for the performance of such labor, scaffolding, hoists, stairs, 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 a person so employed.

Owners, general contractors and their agents cannot insulate themselves from liability by avoiding authority and control over the work site. Labor Law §240(1) imposes liability without fault on the owner and general contractor who may be liable even in the absence of notice of an unsafe condition. In order to prevail under Labor Law §240(1), an worker must demonstrate that his/her injuries were proximately caused by a violation of Labor Law §240(1). However, a demonstration that the plaintiff's own conduct was the sole proximate cause of the accident, defeats plaintiff's claim. In other words, if a plaintiff's own improper use of a piece of equipment causes their accident, may bar their recovery in a lawsuit.

Likewise, Labor Law §241(6) imposes an absolute duty on general contractors, owners and their agents, but only with respect to certain activities of construction, excavation and demolition work. Labor Law §241(6) reads:

all contractors and owners and their agents except owners of one and two family dwellings who contract for but do not direct or control the work, when constructing or demolishing buildings or doing any excavating in connection therewith, shall comply with the following requirements:

(6) all areas in which construction excavation or demolition work is being performed shall be so constructed, shored, equipped, guarded, arranged, operate and conducted as to provide a reasonable and adequate protection and safety to the persons employed therein or lawfully frequenting such places.

In order to establish a violation of Labor Law §241(6), a plaintiff must prove that the defendant(s) violated a provision of the New York State Industrial Code (Title 12 NYCRR Section 23 et. seq.) but not one of its general regulations which set forth basic safety standards.

Please call Attorney James DiPasquale at (646) 343-4607, for a free consultation.

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