FLORIDA CONSTRUCTION INJURY LAWYER
Construction work is a booming industry. Over 11 million Americans work in this field with more growth anticipated. There is, however, a dark side to this industry. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), almost five thousand workers were killed on the job in 2014 alone. What is even more alarming about this is that 20% of those deaths, or roughly 1 in 5 fatalities, occurred in the construction industry. This does not take into account the numerous workplace injuries. It is estimated that an injury occurs on a construction site roughly every fourteen minutes, resulting in over 37,000 injuries a year. If you or a loved one works in the construction industry, it is important that you know your rights in the unfortunate event that you are injured. Here are the important facts you should be aware of when it comes to construction zone injuries.
Table of Contents:
- Common Construction Zone Injuries
- Types of Injuries
- What You Can Do
- Who is Liable?
- Worker’s Compensation and Personal Injury
- How Can We Help?
The Most Common Construction Zone Injuries
Construction work can be a dangerous job as a series of workers manipulate huge pieces of machinery, sometimes hundreds of feet above the ground. As such, there are also a great deal of types of injuries that can occur to construction workers. These include:
- Falls/Falling Objects—These are probably the two most common accidents that occur on a construction site. Construction workers are often well above the ground working on ladders, roofs, and scaffolding. As such, the potential for falls is substantial. In addition, since workers are sometimes above other employees doing construction work at the same time, it is possible for those above to accidentally drop tools and other instruments on the unsuspecting workers below. Head injuries, including concussions and brain damage, can occur, as can spinal injuries such as a broken back and paralysis. Workers are constantly reminded to wear their hard hats and use safety equipment, but even the best protection can sometimes fail to soften these injuries. Those who are injured in a fall or from falling objects should seek immediate medical attention and file a workers’ compensation claim. If the injury was the result of workplace negligence, then a personal injury lawyer can advise you of your rights in seeking compensation.
- Heavy Equipment and Vehicles—Second on the list of common construction accidents involves heavy equipment and vehicles. With everything from forklifts and cranes to nail guns and drills, the potential for accident is very common. One legal area that can come into play here is “product liability.” If you use a piece of construction equipment that has a faulty part or is poorly made, such as a forklift with bad brakes, then the manufacturer of the product may be liable for any injuries you sustain as a result of this defect. Additionally, if the construction supervisor knowingly provides faulty equipment, such as nail guns that misfire, then the negligence can also fall on the employer. Similarly, if you are injured by a vehicle on site, such as a crane or large truck that hits you, then the supervisor can also be held liable for negligence because he did not properly control and maintain the work site that led to your injury.
- Collapses—One of the biggest calamities that can occur on a construction site is when an excavation trench or building collapses in on the workers. This is actually so dangerous that, according to OSHA, the “fatality rate for excavation work is 112% higher than the rate for general construction”. If you are building a construction/excavation trench and the trench collapses in on top of you, then you run the risk of running out of oxygen or being exposed to toxic or noxious gases. Building collapses often occur when the building is marked for demolition or because improper supports are in place during a construction project. Negligence on the part of the employer can result in both of these accidents and can be used in a personal injury case to get compensation for the injured.
- Diseases and other medical conditions—Although many people do not think about construction sites being the epicenter for diseases and other medical ailments, there are actually several that are associated with this line of work. Perhaps the most common of these are respiratory in nature. Working in highly dusty and dank areas with poor ventilation can lead to problems such as “chronic dust disease” (also called pneumoconiosis) and other conditions including black lung disease. For those who worked in construction years ago (or who are currently doing demolition of older buildings), the problem can be exposure to asbestos, a fire-retardant insulator that can cause mesothelioma, a particularly invasive form of lung cancer. Another area that unsafe construction sites (and especially unsafe materials) is an exposure to lead. Even the children of construction workers are at risk of having higher levels of lead in their blood as has been pointed out by the Centers for Disease Control. This can cause a whole range of health problems including “behavioral disorders and brain damage.”
- Exposure to the elements and overexertion—No one will try to claim that construction work isn’t a physically demanding job. Carrying heavy equipment, working in all manners of weather conditions, and doing repetitive actions such as hammering or sawing are all common parts of life as a construction worker. So it should come as no surprise that this physical work can cause problems with repetitive motion injuries (such as carpal tunnel syndrome) or problems with muscles and joint pain, such as arthritis and knee or back injuries that are merely a matter of constant wear and tear. Furthermore, working long hours in extremely hot or extremely cold weather without proper breaks and heating or air can lead to heat stroke or frostbite. Either of these two conditions are dangerous, as they can lead to brain damage, heart problems, loss of extremities such as fingers or toes, and even death.
- Explosions and electrocution—Perhaps the least common, but certainly no less devastating, accident on a construction site involves explosions and electrical accidents. Many construction sites have exposed electrical wires along with pipes and plumbing that can leak, leading to a dangerous combination that can cause injury or death from electrocution. Likewise, flammable chemicals are also commonly found on construction sites, including gasoline that powers some of the equipment. These can lead to fires and explosions if they are not handled and stored properly. If such an injury occurs due to the negligence of others, including the site supervisor, then an injured worker may have grounds for a personal injury claim to seek restitution for damages.
Types of Medical Conditions/Injuries Caused by Construction Accidents
Just as there is a wide range of accident types possible on a construction site, there is also a wide range of specific injuries that a construction worker can incur. These range from the almost mundane, such as cuts and scrapes, to the truly severe, including death. The most common types of injuries include:
- Cuts, scrapes, and lacerations—Although these may seem minor, if left untreated they can be potentially dangerous. Cuts and lacerations may come from such things as improperly used tools, faulty equipment, or exposed nails. If, for instance, the exposed nail is rusty or coated in chemicals, these can enter the blood stream causing tetanus or blood poisoning.
- Broken bones—Another common injury are broken bones, particularly hands and fingers. This can come into play from improperly used equipment such as hammers or from accidents including falls or having the bone crushed in between walls and vehicles.
- Loss of limbs—Amputations can occur, particularly when using sharp tools such as saws. If a mistake is made when using a saw, it can result in the loss of a finger or even a hand. Dropping a saw accidentally can also lead to the loss of a toe in some cases. Unfortunately, if a cut or amputated limb is too deep or the accompanying blood loss is too severe, then the accident can result in death.
- Eye and ear injuries—Vision and hearing are particularly at risk on a construction site. Sharp pieces of metal or wood may go flying when a worker is grinding or sawing these materials. If the fragments lodge in the eye, it can lead to impaired vision or even total vision loss. Likewise, the exposure to loud noises such as drills and jackhammers can damage your hearing just as easily as standing too close to a loudspeaker during a rock concert. That is why it is so important for workers to use their safety equipment such as goggles and ear plugs and for supervisors to ensure that all workers are following these safety precautions.
- Ankle, back, knee, and shoulder injuries—The joints and muscles in a worker’s body can gradually and eventually wear out from overuse. Similarly, these areas can be greatly impacted in the event of a fall or similar mishap. Many of these may require physical therapy to rehabilitate the injury and some overexertion injuries may require surgery to correct.
- Head and spinal injuries—Falls and falling objects can cause head/brain injuries along with spinal problems including brain damage and paralysis. These are among some of the most serious construction injuries.
- Burns and toxic exposure—As previously mentioned, fires and electrocutions are one of the rarer types of accidents on construction sites, but they do happen. Unfortunately, even though they may be less frequent, they are also extremely severe and can take a great amount of time and treatment to recover from. In addition, certain jobs such as welding can not only be a risk for burns but also for exposure to chemicals and other toxins, particularly vapors and gases.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)—Although PTSD is something that has been more closely associated to soldiers returning from combat, it is also a problem that can affect workers—either from the trauma associated with an accident or from witnessing the death or injury of a co-worker in such an accident. PTSD is a serious mental disorder that can take feelings of fear, guilt and anxiety and amplify these until the sufferer cannot function normally. In severe situations, PTSD can lead to suicide or suicidal thoughts.
- Death—In extreme cases, construction workers have been known to lose their lives in accidents. In these situations, the worker’s spouse or family may seek restitution for their lost loved one in the form of a wrongful death lawsuit.
What You Can Do
If you or a loved one work on a construction site, then it is important that you understand how to protect yourself and how to protect your rights in the event of an accident.
- Prevention and safety—The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupation Safety and Health Administration, commonly known as OSHA, is responsible for establishing guidelines and practices that are meant to be followed in order to keep employees safe. OSHA guidelines should be followed to the letter by contractors and supervisors. If you feel that your employer is not properly following OSHA regulations, it is possible to file an anonymous report with OSHA to have your site inspected for safety conditions. Even though the report is anonymous, it is also still illegal for an employer to threaten you or demote or fire you for filing such a report. If your employer is not following OSHA guidelines, then these supervisors can be considered negligent when an accident occurs. These guidelines require that the contractor must:
- Communicate with employees about potential hazards on the worksite so that these can be avoided and prevented;
- Create a safety manual with training procedures to inform employees of precautions and guidelines;
- Display OSHA regulations so that all employees are aware of these guidelines;
- Provide employees with tools and equipment that are safe;
- Remove hazards from the workplace that may injure an employee; and
- Report potential exposures to hazardous materials and toxins to employees and the proper health services.
- How to file a construction injury claim—If the site manager and supervisor does not properly follow OSHA guidelines and you become injured as a result, then it is important that you know the steps to follow. First and foremost, you must seek immediate medical treatment for your injury. As part of Worker’s Compensation, you should go to the doctor or medical provider that is outlined under your company’s policies. Once you have been treated, make sure that you give a written report to your employer and keep a copy of this report for your own records in case there is a question or dispute later on. You should also consider contacting an attorney regarding your rights in such a case and learn whether or not you can seek compensation in a personal injury lawsuit.
Who Is Liable If You Are Injured in a Construction Accident?
If you are injured in an accident on a construction site, it is important to contact a personal injury attorney who can help you determine who is accountable and liable for the accident. This can be a complex process and can actually involve multiple persons who are responsible. They potentially include the following:
- Site owners—If a person is injured as a result of a potentially hazardous condition, such as toxic chemicals stored on site, then the site’s owner can be held liable. The only qualification here is that the site owner must be aware of the hazard and not inform the employee or do anything to rectify the situation ahead of time.
- Contractors (including prime contractors and subcontractors)—A contractor is responsible for providing a “reasonably safe” work area. This can include the actually site itself, i.e. insuring that the building or work area is clear of hazards and safe to work in, and the equipment which must be maintained properly and be safe to handle and use. If a worker is injured because of a faulty forklift, for instance, that was previously reported to the contractor, then that contractor is liable for the injury.
- Equipment manufacturers—Sometimes an accident can occur not because the equipment was not properly maintained but because it was faulty to begin with. For instance, if a work truck is made with faulty brakes, then the manufacturer can be held responsible if the truck crashes and injures workers.
- Architects/engineers—The individuals who designed a new building are also liable if their design is not up to code and an injury occurs as a result. For instance, if a building is not structurally sound because of the architects’ design and the building collapses on the workers, then the architect who designed the building can be held liable for the injury. If these individuals also do not follow proper protocol in the site safety inspection, then they may be held liable for any accidents.
Worker’s Compensation and Personal Injury
If a person is injured at work, then the injury is usually covered under worker’s compensation. This can actually prevent you from being able to file a personal injury lawsuit, but an experienced personal injury attorney can walk you through the process and explain what you need to do to continue. For instance, if your worker’s compensation does not cover all of your injury related expenses, then you may be able to bring a lawsuit forward to recoup those expenses.
How Can We Help?
If you or a loved one has been injured on a construction site, then you may be able to bring forward a lawsuit for expenses such as medical bills and lost wages. The attorneys at Wolf & Pravato are here to guide you through the process and help you to understand your rights in such a situation.
Communities We Serve
West Palm Beach