Lawsuits for Construction Injuries

The type of legal remedy available after a construction-related accident depends on who was injured and the nature of the incident.

By , J.D. · Villanova University School of Law

Construction plays a key economic and societal role in the U.S., but the construction industry is home to some of the most dangerous jobs in the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So it makes sense that injury claims stemming from construction-related accidents are quite common, though not all accidents result in a personal injury lawsuit.

In this article, we'll look at common kinds of injuries that occur on or around construction sites, who might suffer a construction-related injury, and the kinds of legal remedies that may be available.

Types of Construction Injuries

Some of the most common construction-related injuries include:

Who Can Suffer a Construction-Related Injury?

There are two main categories of people who could become injured in a construction accident. First, you have construction workers, which can include everyone from frontline workers to supervisors who spend most of their time in the back office.

Next, you have non-workers, including pedestrians who somehow end up on a construction site, drivers cautiously moving through a road construction zone, or young children who wander onto a site.

Depending on who's injured, the avenue of legal relief might differ. For example, construction workers can seek compensation for their injuries from either a personal injury claim or workers' compensation claim. For non-workers, a personal injury claim will likely be the sole avenue for compensation.

Construction Injuries and Workers' Compensation

For most construction workers, a workers' compensation claim is the exclusive remedy for on-the-job injuries.

The workers' compensation system offers employees almost-guaranteed compensation for work-related injuries, paying for the worker's lost wages and medical bills. This financial relief ordinarily comes quickly, without the employee having to file a lawsuit or prove that the employer or anyone else was at fault for the worker's injury.

The catch is that except in limited circumstances, the injured construction worker cannot sue the employer, even if the employer was negligent for causing the worker's injury. This matters because some types of compensable losses ("damages")—like pain and suffering—are not available in a workers' compensation claim.

In return for quick and almost guaranteed compensation, the worker gives up the right to bring a personal injury lawsuit. This is the so-called "grand bargain" of the workers' compensation system in the United States.

But depending on the state and the circumstances, the injured worker might still be able to file a lawsuit over a construction accident if:

  • one of the parties responsible for the accident is not the employer. For example, imagine an electrician works for a subcontractor and suffers a severe electrical burn because of a defective fuse. The electrician can't sue the subcontractor but might be able to sue the maker of the fuse or the general contractor
  • the injury is the result of the employer's intentional misconduct
  • the injury is the result of an employer's gross negligence
  • the employer denied the workers' compensation claim in bad faith, or
  • the employer didn't have any (or enough) workers' compensation insurance coverage.

Learn more about on-the-job injuries and workers' compensation.

Personal Injury Lawsuits for Construction Accidents

Personal injury lawsuits usually follow a construction accident when the plaintiff is a non-employee, or one of the workers' compensation exceptions allows a construction employee to file suit.

Most personal injury lawsuits due to construction injuries will rely on a "negligence" cause of action. Proving negligence means showing that:

  • the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff
  • the defendant breached that duty
  • the breach of that duty caused the plaintiff's injury, and
  • the plaintiff's injury resulted in damages.

There are also injury lawsuits that rely on a product liability legal theory. For instance, recall the hypothetical earlier in this article where the electrician got burned due to a defective fuse. That electrician may have a product liability lawsuit against the maker of the fuse.

Proving a product liability case means the electrician will have to establish:

  • the fuse was defective
  • the defective fuse caused the electrician's injury
  • the fuse was being used as intended, and
  • the electrician received an injury.

If the construction injury results in the death of an individual, other legal claims could include a wrongful death lawsuit.

What "Damages" Are Available in Construction Injury Cases?

In most cases, the plaintiff in a lawsuit over a construction-related injury could potentially recover the following types of "damages":

  • lost wages
  • out-of-pocket expenses
  • pain and suffering
  • reimbursement for medical expenses
  • loss of enjoyment of life, and
  • punitive damages.

Note that punitive damages will not usually be an option. Punitive damages are only available when the defendant's conduct is especially egregious and the court wants to deter or punish such behavior. Such a situation might occur if a construction company learns of a hazardous chemical leak at a construction site next to a residential neighborhood, but warns no one and does nothing to stop the leak. Then a few days later, people start getting sick from exposure to that chemical, as it seeps into their yards and homes.

If you've been injured on or around a construction site, your best first step might be discussing your situation (and your options) with a personal injury lawyer.

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