Injury Lawsuits Based on Negligent Construction

When a poorly constructed building causes injuries to workers or non-workers, the parties behind the construction can face a lawsuit for negligent construction.

Imagine a new 30-floor office building collapses six months after opening. Consider the lawsuits that would ensue. Most of the families of those who died would sue most of the parties involved in constructing the building: that includes the building owner, the general contractor, any subcontractor that did work relating to the stability of the building, the architects, and the engineers. The owner, having paid $50 million for a building that no longer exists, would probably sue everyone involved in the construction. Many of the tenants would sue to recover damages resulting from the lost equipment and files that were stored in the building. Some of the owners of surrounding buildings would sue for damage to their property caused by the collapse of the building.

In short, negligent construction can lead to many different types of lawsuits among a wide array of parties. Of course, a lawsuit can arise out of problems much less drastic than the collapse of a building. This article will discuss the basics of negligent construction lawsuits by looking at the two main categories:

  • property damage caused by negligent construction, and
  • personal injury resulting from negligent construction.

Negligent Construction Lawsuits for Property Damage

Nearly every construction project is governed by a series of contracts. These contracts define the responsibilities of each of the parties involved in the project. So, if something goes wrong -- for example, a roofer walks away from a job after only completing half of the roof -- liability can be determined as a matter of contract law. In such a case, the roofer will likely be liable for failing to fulfill the terms of the agreement (payment upon completion of the entire roof).

But construction projects are almost always completed by professionals, and professionals are held to certain standards called “standards of care.” Thus, regardless of the language used in the contracts involved in the project, the professionals responsible for completing the construction may be liable for harm that results when they fail to competently do their jobs.

In short, any party involved in a construction project may be liable for any defect, depending on the contracts involved and the nature of the defect. Construction defects can raise more legal issues than can be discussed in this article. But here are some of the critical questions that parties to construction defect litigation should consider:

  • Do the contracts involved assign liability or provide for indemnification?
  • Which party would a layperson assign fault for the defect to?
  • What would be the cost of fixing the defect?
  • What would be the reduced value of the completed project if the defect were not fixed?
  • Was the defect the result of a flawed plan (such as an engineer’s mistake) or the result of flawed execution (such as a subcontractor’s mistake)?
  • Does the defect create a safety hazard?

Negligent Construction Lawsuits for Personal Injuries

Construction is, by its very nature, a dangerous industry. Workers perform difficult physical labor, sometimes at great heights or with heavy machinery. The number of things that can go wrong seem infinite. In 2010, 751 construction workers died from job related injuries in the United States. There are consistently more work-related injuries in construction every year than in almost any other industry.

Construction can cause injuries to both workers and non-workers. Some of the critical questions in cases involving both types of injuries are identified below.

Construction Worker Injuries

  • Do workers’ compensation rules apply?
  • Who was responsible for safety at the construction site?
  • Were any industry standards, such as OSHA standards, violated?
  • Was the injury a sudden injury, such as an electrocution, or did it develop over time (such as back pain from regular heavy lifting)?
  • Was the injury reported to the employer?
  • Did the employer provide safety equipment to help prevent this type of injury?
  • Was available safety equipment used?
  • Did the employer provide safety training relevant to this type of injury?
  • Have other workers at the same construction site been injured in the same way?

Non-Worker Injuries

  • Was the injured person a motorist?
  • Was the injured person a child?
  • Where was the person located when the injury occurred?
  • What warning signs were posted at or near the location of the injury?
  • Was the injured person aware of the construction?
  • Who was responsible for posting adequate warnings?
  • Did the injury occur before or after the completion of construction?
  • Were any industry standards violated?
  • Was there an open and obvious risk of danger?

Remedies for Personal Injuries

In most personal injury lawsuits, whether by a worker or non-worker, some or all of the following damages are available to an injured person:

  • lost wages (as a result of missed work due to the injuries)
  • medical bills
  • pain and suffering (the value, expressed in monetary form, of having to deal with the pain and agony of the injuries), and
  • loss of normal life (the difference in value, expressed in monetary form, of the person’s quality of life after the injury compared to the person’s quality of life before the injury).

Negligent construction lawsuits come in many forms and can draw on a variety of sources of law. To navigate the complex legal issues that often arise in negligent construction cases, parties are well-advised to seek the advice of a qualified attorney.

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