Construction is a dangerous job. In a typical year, construction workers suffer more on-the-job fatalities than any other category of employee. Some accidents are inevitable. Many, however, are preventable and are due to contractors or subcontractors cutting corners, gambling with workers’ safety in order to gain contracts or maximize their profits.
Several categories of hazards account for a significant percentage of construction injuries. Falls take the lead. Construction site falls can be deadly because they often occur from height – whether from a scaffolding, a cherry picker, roof, or ladder. When the cause is not worker carelessness, it is often faulty parts, inadequate training, lax maintenance, shoddy assembly or attachment of scaffolding to the structure under construction, or a combination of such causes.
Trench cave-ins are another category of hazard resulting in deaths and serious injury every year. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has stringent safety requirements for trench work, designed to prevent collapses. These safety standards are often ignored by ignorant or impatient contractors. Electrocution when metal ladders or other equipment, touches live wires, or when workers inadvertently cut into live wires, are another cause of death and severe injury. High pressure hoses, welding equipment, items dropped from above, are also frequent hazards. The sources of danger are as varied as the tools of the construction trades.
When a worker is injured on the job in Massachusetts and must lose time from work, he will be entitled to workers compensation even if the worker himself was at fault for his injuries. Workers compensation is generally adequate for modest work time lost, but is grossly inadequate to compensate a worker and his family for death or disabling injury. Fortunately, the worker retains his right to bring “third party actions,” that is actions against partys other than the employer, whose negligence may have contributed to the accident. Unlike workers compensation, recovery against a third party is not limited by statute – the only practical limit is the extent of the third party’s insurance or corporate assets.
For example, in a case in which a worker fell from a cherry picker, aka bucket truck, on which he was working, and became paralyzed from the waist down, recovery was obtained from the manufacturer of the truck for certain design defects that made the fall more likely. Sometimes jobsite accidents occur on leased equipment. If the equipment was leased in a faulty condition, the leasing company may be liable. Whenever such third party actions are brought, the worker compensation insurer will have a lien against any third party recovery, to the extent of its payout to the worker, . Typically, the comp insurer will negotiate the lien, understanding that if attorneys fees and the compensation lien take all or most of a third party recovery, then the worker will have no incentive to pursue the case. To an extent, the workers compensation insurer and worker have a mutual interest in a successful third party claim.
Construction accidents will occur for as long as there is construction. A seriously injured worker should contact an attorney to explore the possibility of a third party action in addition to his workers compensation claim.