When construction site accidents occur, there are a host of possible avenues. Some of the most common defendants in these situations include:
- Other Contractors on the site
- Product manufacturers who may have sold or leased equipment to the job site
- Landowners or lessees of the property
Each avenue of recovery has potential, and each one has road blocks to success. Here you can learn about the potential and the shortcomings of each approach.
Co-employees who act negligently on the job site are the starting point for considering fault in a construction site accident case that results in injuries. An equipment operator may operate a bulldozer that strikes a worker on the job site, resulting in personal injury. It may make a significant difference for whom the co-worker is employed. If the co-worker is employed by the same employer as the injured party, or if the co-worker is employed by a company in the vertical chain of construction contracts, that worker may be protected by workers compensation immunity.
In most cases, an employee cannot sue his or her employer for work-related injuries. This immunity extends to the employees of other contractors with which the employer has contracted. Not all employees on the job site enjoy such protection, so a key question is who employs the employee? In some narrow, recognized exceptions, even an employee of the same employer can be liable if the actions on the jobsite involve “something extra” beyond the employer’s duty to provide a reasonably safe job site.
In a case handled by Monsees & Mayer, a foreman at a local manufacturing facility directed the employee to hang from an extended forklift over a vat of boiling water to facilitate the replacement and cleaning of a grate in the bottom of the vat. The employee fell into the water and realized horrific, ultimately fatal, burn injuries. Under such circumstances, Missouri’s courts held the foreman was engaged in conduct that was “something extra” beyond the duty otherwise to provide guardrails or the like around the vat.
Many of the same protections extend to other contractors on the job site. It makes a significant difference whether a given contractor is in the vertical or horizontal chain, as it relates to the injured employee’s employer. For example, if Contractor A (general contractor), enters into a contract directly with the injured employee’s company to excavate the job site, the general contractor may qualify as a “statutory employer” of the injured worker. Accordingly, the general contractor, and in most instances its employees, will be insulated from liability by workers compensation laws. If, however, the contractor responsible for the injury has no direct, contractual relationship with the injured person’s employer, there may be liability.
Let’s assume, for example, the bulldozer striking the person on the job site. The injured employee works for a company that has no contractual relationship with the excavating company that employs the bulldozer operator, and that the excavation company was retained (under contract) with the general contractor. By contrast, the injured employee works for a company that has no direct contractual relationship with the general contractor. In such circumstances, the excavating company may be a fruitful source of recovery.
Oftentimes, workers are victims of injuries from defective equipment. Such injuries do not ordinarily present the same issues of workers compensation immunity, although if workers compensation pays benefits, some portion of any third-party recovery may have to be repaid to the employer/workers compensation insurer. A claim can be made for injuries that result from defective equipment or products, if the product was defective at the time it was manufactured. Dangerous defects can result either from an inherent design flaw, or when the specifications of the product are otherwise safe, from faulty assembly or manufacture. Expert engineers must establish that a given product was defective by reason of either design or manufacture, and that such defect rendered the product unreasonably dangerous.
Finally, there are occasions when a worker on a construction site is injured due to a hazard on the property, unknown to workers at the site. For example, let’s imagine that a landowner, contracting for excavation on a site, had buried canisters of propane gas, or some other dangerous compound. Upon excavation, the tanks are ignited and explode, injuring or killing workers on the site. While a landowner can also, at times, be insulated as a “statutory employer”, such latent defects may result in recovery for the victims.
Because multiple legal theories, a panoply of potential defendants and complex legal theories are at issue with any construction site case, only attorneys with special experience in this legal field should be consulted. If you are a victim, you may rely on the experience of Monsees & Mayer, P.C.