Construction Accidents That Lead to Injury Lawsuits

A closer look at the kinds of injuries that occur on a construction site, and how a claim or lawsuit might be affected.

About one in five fatal injuries suffered by workers in the United States in 2010 occurred in the construction industry, according to OSHA statistics. What OSHA has dubbed the “fatal four” injuries accounted for nearly three out of five of those injuries. The fatal four injuries include:

  • falls
  • electrocutions
  • struck by object, and
  • caught in/between.

Eliminating the "fatal four" injuries would save over 400 lives every year. In the sections that follow, this article discusses each of the "fatal four" injuries and a number of steps that should be taken to prevent injuries to construction workers. When these steps are not taken and an injury results, the injured party often has a good case for an injury lawsuit.

Falls

Falls account for approximately 35% of construction worker deaths every year. Falls come in a variety of forms, but a few of the most common examples include:

  • falls to lower levels in partially complete buildings
  • falls from ladders
  • falls off of or due to the collapse of scaffolds, and
  • slips and trips.

The most common causes of falls include:

  • slippery, cluttered, or unstable walking/working surfaces
  • unprotected edges
  • floor holes and wall openings
  • unsafely positioned ladders, and
  • misused fall protection.

Electrocutions

Many construction workers are exposed to the danger of electrocutions. Although electricians are more prone to danger, exposed wires and faulty connections lead pose a hazard for anyone working at a construction site. Electrocutions account for 10% of workplace deaths in the construction industry.

Injuries caused by electricity fall into four categories:

  • electrocutions (fatal)
  • electric shock
  • burns, and
  • falls caused by contact with electricity.

Contact with current of as little as 20 milliamps can be fatal. The maximum amount an average person can grab and let go of is 16 milliamps. Cardiac standstill and internal organ damage is likely to result from a charge of 2 amps or more.

One significantly underappreciated risk of electrical injury in construction is danger posed by overhead power lines. The use of cranes and metal ladders near overhead wires frequently lead to worker injuries, often simply because workers forget that the lines are there.

Struck by Object

This category of accident accounts for 8% of construction worker deaths. The most frequently cited injury in this category is workers being struck by automobiles or other machinery.

As a result, OSHA and other organizations have promulgated safety standards for the movement of vehicles at construction sites. Generally speaking, the driver of a vehicle should always conduct a walk-around of the vehicle before moving it. It is also sometimes necessary for the driver to use a spotter, particularly while backing up.

Other objects that pose a danger to construction workers include objects being moved by cranes; bricks, tools, and other items stored at the higher floors of buildings under construction; and falling ladders and scaffolds.

Caught In or Between

This category of incident accounts for 4% of deaths from construction injuries. Common causes of caught in/between injuries include:

  • trench/excavation collapse
  • rotating equipment
  • unguarded parts
  • equipment rollovers
  • equipment maintenance, and
  • rigging accidents.

OSHA promulgates regulations governing safety precautions to avoid caught in/between injuries. In some instances, multiple regulations are violated in one incident. The following is an actual OSHA report about a single incident:

The employee was attempting to move a scissor lift. Employee was not trained on how to operate the equipment. Plus, the equipment controls were not working as designed, the forward/back joystick being replaced by a toggle switch, the "dead man" foot pedal was not working, emergency stop button had been removed, the platform control panel engine start button was not working, plus a hydraulic problem which would allow the platform to come back down once it was elevated, and possible other problems. The employee started the machine from the ground controls and it immediately started moving. The employee was crushed between the moving machine and a concrete wall.

Sometimes regulations are unnecessary, and simple common sense is required. Below is another OSHA incident report:

The owner of the business was salvaging parts from an automobile. He was working underneath the car while it was held up by a forklift. The car was a T-top style, and he had the forks through the side windows so that the car was supported by the "T" section of the roof. The car fell off the forks, possibly from the failure of the "T" section of the roof, and crushed the victim.

Lawsuits Resulting From Construction Injuries

A variety of safety precautions are available to employers so that they can reduce the risk of injuries resulting from falls. OSHA and other organizations promulgate safety standards. Whether or not an employer or construction worksite owner ignored or adhered to these safety standards is one factor in assessing legal liability for injuries caused by construction accidents. This holds true not for the "fatal four" discussed here, and any kind of mishap on a construction project.

Construction injuries commonly result in lawsuits. But a complex network of issues -- including workers’ compensation and contractor/sub-contractor relationships -- can make the legal landscape difficult to navigate. So, injured workers should consider consulting a local attorney experienced in construction law.

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