Construction Injury Overview
Whether on a small project for an individual homeowner or for a major commercial development, construction work can quite dangerous. Indeed, on a daily basis construction workers must deal with some of the most dangerous working conditions faced by employees in any industry. As a result, serious work-related injuries at construction sites occur with an unfortunate frequency. Regulations, specifications, inspection requirements, and job safety programs all seek to prevent construction site accidents and promote safety awareness on the part of all parties involved in a construction project.
Construction Accidents are Common
Despite these important efforts to deal with the challenge of construction site safety, accidents occur and will undoubtedly continue to occur, due to both the nature of the work itself and the variety of hazards faced by construction workers. These hazards can include falls from scaffolds and other elevations, being struck by moving or falling machinery, electrocution, health hazards resulting from exposure to asbestos and chemicals, injuries caused by defective or unreasonably unsafe equipment, and lifting and repetitive motion injuries.
Construction Accidents can be Complex
If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of a construction accident, the first step in your legal recovery is to meet with a skilled construction attorney to discuss the situation. Issues in your potential case, including compliance with occupational and site safety standards and regulations, engineering issues, and liability and indemnity determinations, all require that your claim be handled by an attorney who is experienced in the area of construction accident liability.
Who May Be Liable For A Construction Site Injury?
Depending on the size and sophistication of the construction project, there can be a wide variety of individuals involved at a construction site, including the site's landowner, design and engineering professionals, contractors (including general, "prime," and "sub"-contractors), construction managers, and equipment and material suppliers. While many construction projects are based on general contract relationships (where a general contractor retained by the site owner enters into agreements with sub-contractors as needs require), larger projects are increasingly being handled by "construction management" organizations.
The type of system in place at a construction site where an injury occurs will be an important consideration in assessing the potential liability of the various individuals involved in the project, especially as to the site owner's liability. Larger construction projects typically involve a great deal of delegation of both work and legal responsibility: from site owner to general contractor; general contractor to "prime" or "sub"-contractor; and in some cases, "prime" contractor to "sub"-contractor. Speaking generally, in assessing liability for injuries at a construction site, the main determinations are the extent of a potential party's control over the premises on which the work is being done, and the degree of their control over the work itself.
To determine who may be liable for injuries resulting from a construction accident, it will help to take a close look at the duties and legal responsibilities of individuals involved in the construction project:
Construction Site Owner
Depending on the amount of control of the premises that he or she gives over to an independent contractor, the landowner may not be considered the legal possessor of the land for the duration of the construction project. Issues of landowner liability will also turn on the degree of his or her control over the premises, as compared to control over the work itself. With this in mind, the owner or possessor of the land on which a construction project is being performed is liable for any injury to individuals (called business "invitees") involved in the project, caused by a potentially harmful condition on the land that the owner knew or should reasonably have known of. This duty does not extend to potentially dangerous conditions that should be obvious to the invitees, and the duty can be eliminated (or the owner's liability lessened) depending on the independent contractor's knowledge and corresponding duties.
General Contractors and "Sub"-Contractors
Both the general and sub-contractor must provide to workers a construction site that is reasonably safe, and they have a legal duty to warn of any defects or hazards at the site (as well as any hazards inherent in the work being performed). Typically, a general or sub-contractor will have a duty to make sure that, to the extent they have been delegated control over a portion of the work being performed at a construction site, that work is being performed safely. This duty extends to the hiring of reasonably competent employees, and ensuring compliance with safety regulations.
Prime contractors share similarities with both general and sub-contractors, depending on the specific construction project at issue. While a general contractor has responsibility for the entire project, a prime contractor is responsible only for the work that is identified in his or her prime contract. A prime contractor is also responsible for any work that he or she chooses to delegate to sub-contractors, and has exclusive responsibility over those sub-contractors (including as to payment and work quality).
Architects and Engineers
These design professionals can be charged with differing amounts of responsibility for a construction project, and often the best way to determine the extent of that responsibility is to look to the design professional's contract with the site owner. Duties can include progress observation to ensure compliance with plans and specifications, and site inspection to ensure compliance with code regulations. Aside from any duty specifically identified in the relevant construction contract, these design professionals are held to certain accepted standards in performing professional services during the design and/or construction phases of the project. An architect or engineer can be held liable for any injuries suffered by construction workers as a result of their failure to meet those standards.
Manufacturers of Construction Machinery or Equipment
Manufacturers of defective construction machinery or equipment can be held responsible for the design and manufacturing (and in some instances maintaining) of that equipment. The legal principles that place liability on a manufacturer of a defective product pertain here in the construction context, including the concept of "no-fault" or "strict" liability.
Especially in situations involving major construction projects, often the parties involved will be required to carry ample insurance coverage. For example, the owner or property manager may be required to carry premises or property liability insurance; and the general and/or sub-contractor may need workers' compensation, commercial general liability, and employer's liability insurance. The insurance coverage of each respective party involved in a construction project, and the extent of that coverage, are important issues when assessing legal responsibility for a construction injury.
OSHA Safety Regulations
Safety regulations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 have been adopted by most states in some form, and these regulations apply to work done at construction sites. The issue of who is responsible for ensuring compliance with OSHA regulations (i.e. general contractor or sub-contractor) often turns on who was in control of the job site or job activity when the injured employee was hurt. The legal effect of a violation of OSHA regulations will vary, depending on the state in which the construction injury took place. In certain jurisdictions, if it can be shown that an OSHA regulation was violated and an injury resulted, nothing more need be proven to establish that the liable party was negligent.
OSHA regulations are not the only legal standards to which a property owner, general contractor, or sub-contractor may be held in determining liability for a construction accident. Often the property owner or general contractor will have his or her own set of safety rules, either generally applicable or specific to the construction project at hand, designed to protect those performing work on the project. Violations of these regulations may serve to support a claim for a construction accident. See OSHA FAQs for more information.
Getting Help with a Construction Accident Injury
If you have been injured as a result of an accident at a construction site, there are a number of things you can do to protect yourself and your legal rights:
- Get medical attention for your injuries.
- Report the injury to your employer and/or construction site manager, and note the name and position of the person notified.
- Get the names and contact information of anyone who may have witnessed the accident.
- If possible, try to preserve any evidence related to your injury, by taking photographs of the area where you were injured (and the injuries themselves), or keeping the equipment or tool that was involved in your injury.
Your next consideration should be to find an attorney to help you evaluate your potential claim. More often than not, your case can be won or lost based on the work done before it ever goes to trial, depending on the results of the investigation and fact-finding that your lawyer will undertake on your behalf.
So, discussing your case with an attorney who is experienced in the area of construction injury law is the best way to ensure your success. In light of complex liability issues, the legal deadlines for filing causes of action for injury (especially for injuries suffered at city-owned construction sites), and the need to conduct a thorough site investigation as soon after the injury as possible, meet with an attorney sooner rather than later. You can have the facts of your claim reviewed by a qualified attorney free of charge.