The construction industry is one of the most hazardous. According to the department of labor, there were 5,333 on-site fatalities in the year 2019. Each day, 15 families did not see their loved ones come home after work. Falls, falling objects, slips, and electrocution are the most common construction accidents.
Besides the grief, bereaved family members ask, who is responsible? Are there systems to hold responsible parties accountable and deter future occurrences? The answer is yes, and in our article dated 21st July 2021, Steve Howard talks about determining who bears legal liability.
But construction accidents are far more complex. Many legalities touching on compliance with occupational health and safety standards and regulations, the nature of the defect (engineering or construction), and indemnification exist. Read on to learn more about the legalities behind construction site accidents.
Compliance with OSHA rules and regulations
The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) was enacted as a Federal Law in 1970. Since then, many states have adopted the law, and these rules govern the safety of workers in construction sites. The rules seek to ensure the wellness of construction site workers and the safety of the working environment. Employers (property owners, general contractors, and subcontractors) should adhere to the laws and observe them.
But OSHA rules are not the only safety regulations employers should observe. Property owners, contractors, and subcontractors must also abide by the internal rules and norms meant to promote safety and employee wellness. Often, construction employers will have internal safety rules to protect workers performing different tasks on the project. Breaching these regulations can be used as support in claims proceedings.
Engineering or design issues
When an engineering defect or a design issue results in construction site injury or fatality, several entities could be on the legal hook. The error could occur due to a design mistake or due to construction oversight. For example, if a construction worker falls due to a poorly designed staircase, it is a design error. On the other hand, if an accident occurs due to a badly fixed window, the defect is a construction error.
Generally, engineers and architects can be held liable for engineering and design issues, and contractors and subcontractors bear liability for construction errors. But it would take a sharp lawyer experienced in prosecuting wrongful death claims to identify and successfully argue such a claim.
Contractual agreements and indemnification
The relationship between different parties in a construction site is contractual. The property owner has a contract with the designer, engineer, and general contractor. General contractors have contracts with the subcontractor. It is therefore inevitable to consider the law of contract when considering the legalities behind construction site accidents.
The contracts between different parties on a site often have liability clauses. Entities pass liability down the chain. Such clauses often include indemnity sections. For example, a general contractor could pass down a liability to a subcontractor. If the subcontractor indemnifies the general contractor, then injuries that result from construction defects are squarely on the subcontractor.
The indemnity guarantees the general contractor that the subcontractor will compensate for any successful claims in the event of such an accident.
What claims can an injured worker make?
Workers' compensation claims are processed under the Workers Compensation Act, and employees are entitled to receive benefits without proving responsibility. They only need to show that the injury happened during working hours and that they were not intoxicated. However, the benefits do not cover future lost income.
The law limits some workers to be eligible for this type of benefit only.
Injured workers and bereaved families can also file personal injury and wrongful death claims. This happens when the accident at the construction site is partially or entirely due to other parties who are not necessarily their employers. For example, if the accident that results in injury or death is due to a reckless colleague. The aggrieved party can make claims against the responsible party.
Injured workers can also file personal injury claims or wrongful death claims against equipment and tools manufacturers and all the parties in the supply chain. But this is when the accident was a result of defective tools or equipment.
Determination of liability
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers have several obligations. These obligations include providing a workplace free of hazards, communicating about potential dangers, providing appropriate equipment, tools, and safety gear, and educating workers about safety.
When considering liability in accidents on a construction site, two crucial factors come into play:
First is the degree of control over the premises and circumstances where the accident occurred. Second is the state of the injured worker. Technology can help make the workplace safer and improve accuracy when determining these two factors. In some states, if the employer is found to have violated OSHA regulations, the doctrine of negligence per se applies. Thus the injured worker may not require further evidence to show the employer was negligent.
Construction site worker deaths in America have drastically reduced. However, both employers and employees could do a lot more to reduce the numbers. Those who have been injured should pursue the matter by filing a Workers’ comp claim, personal injury claim, or wrongful death claim. It will help to keep employers accountable. But construction site accident claims can be complicated. Therefore it is crucial to have a qualified personal injury lawyer on your side throughout the process.