Construction Accident Lawyer in NYC
New York has a very worker friendly law in relation to construction accidents. If you are injured at a construction site, it is very important to speak with an experienced New York construction accident lawyer.
I’ve been injured in an accident at a construction site. Who can I sue? Can I sue my employer?
The general rule in New York is that you can’t sue your employer for on-the-job injuries. There are some very limited exceptions that will be discussed in a later post. See also a later discussion on the “special employee” doctrine.
While you can’t sue your employer for on-the-job injuries at a construction site, you can sue the general contractor and the building owner. Your employer must provide you with workers’ compensation benefits, what lawyers commonly refer to as “workers comp”.
What does “workers comp” cover?
In general, workers comp covers unlimited medical bills, potentially for life, and some of your lost wages. The workers comp system is a trade-off. You can’t get money from your employer for your pain and suffering, but in exchange, you don’t have to prove that your employer did anything wrong. You don’t have to prove liability or fault. It’s what’s known as a “strict liability” system. You got hurt on the job? You can’t sue to get cash, but your bills will be taken care of, and a portion of your wages will be covered so you don’t starve while you’re recovering.
The laws that govern Workers comp are entirely different from personal injury. It is a very complex area of law. If you’ve been injured at a construction site in New York, it’s absolutely necessary to have a lawyer who knows the ins and outs of this extremely complicated system.
Aside from workers comp, can I get money for a construction accident injury case?
Most construction sites in New York have a general contractor, and then many subcontractors – plumbers, electricians, ironworkers, carpenters etc. The workers are usually employed by the subcontractors. So, while you can’t sue your employer – the electrical subcontractor, the plumbing subcontractor etc., you can sue the general contractor and the building owner.
Construction accidents in New York are covered under The New York Labor Law. The most important section of The New York Labor Law is 240. It is commonly called “The Scaffold Law.” Contrary to what the name says, it applies to any “structure” that is being used at a construction site, not just scaffold.
There is a lot of fighting among lawyers every year as to what Labor Law 240 means, but it essentially boils down to this – if a construction worker either falls off of something, or something falls on a construction worker, the worker is entitled to an absolute liability standard against the building owner and general contractor.
What is absolute liability?
In this context it means that even if the worker was partially responsible, even 99% responsible for the accident, the building owner and general contractor are legally 100% responsible for the accident. While this may sound unbelievable, it is the law in New York. Contributory negligence is not a defense. In other words, even if it can be shown that the worker contributed to the accident and was herself negligent, that is not a defense. The accident would be legally determined to be 100% the fault of the building owner and general contractor. The only way the worker could be held responsible is if the building owner and general contractor can prove that the construction worker was 100% at fault for causing the accident.
In order to make sure you get properly compensated for your New York construction accident case, it is important to speak with a New York construction accident lawyer as soon as possible after an accident.
The LAW TEAM at Haicken Law has successfully settled many construction accidents cases totaling millions of dollars including:
- $1.25 for a Queens man in a New York City construction accident case.
- $750,000 for a Suffolk County union carpenter who was injured in a scaffold accident in New York City. A co-worker dropped a 40-pound piece of sheet rock on our client’s neck. He was knocked unconscious and was later diagnosed with a herniated disc. He attempted to work through the pain for 4 years, and ultimately had a cervical fusion.
- $218,000 for a pedestrian who tripped and fall on construction material that had been negligently left protruding into the sidewalk. Ten years before this accident, she had lower back surgery. The fall exacerbated her condition necessitating a 2nd surgery.
What are some types of construction accidents that have resulted in lawsuit settlements in New York?
The most common type of construction accidents in New York City are those that take place on or about scaffolds. The main law that governs New York construction accidents, Labor Law 240, is often referred to as “The scaffold law.” Below are some typical examples of scaffold accidents.
- Objects falling from scaffolding. This is one of the most common types of New York construction accidents. Materials often have to be hoisted up from one level to the next. In the hoisting process, materials can fall when they are not properly secured. Even if an injured construction worker was himself supposed to secure something that falls on him, he can still be compensated for his injuries.
- Construction workers falling from scaffolds. This is another common example of a New York construction accident that is entirely preventable but happens thousands of times per year. Worksites are required to have protections, so workers don’t fall. When working at any sort of elevation, each worker is required to have a harness, attached to a lanyard, which is then in turn attached to an anchor point. If just one piece of this equation fails, the results can be deadly. Even if a worker has been told to wear a harness and does not, he may still be able to be compensated for his injuries. Sufficient fall protection such as guard rails are always necessary on scaffolds under OSHA rules. Scaffolding is often put up in the rush to get jobs done. Far too often, those responsible for construction site safety fail to properly put up all necessary protection equipment leading to hazardous conditions and falls.
- Falling objects that land on workers, causing the workers to fall. If an object falls from a height, lands on a worker, in turn causing the worker to fall onto another level below, this situation also falls under the umbrella of labor law 240. In both instances – the object falling and the laborer falling, the building owner and general contractor would be held to be absolutely liable. The law was passed in a such as strict manner so that general contractors and building owners in New York have every incentive to make sure that safety rules and regulations are followed.
- Defective mud sills. The base of every scaffold should have a metal plate on top of a piece of wood that touches the ground. The wood is there to act as a buffer between the metal scaffold and the ground. The wooden barrier is called a mud sill. This piece of wood is often hastily cut as the scaffold is being erected. Building codes and regulations require that the mud sill be flush with the metal plate above. The sill is often not cut flush to the plate and can extend into the pathway of those walking by. Poorly maintained mudsills can also come apart and become tripping hazards. Improperly maintained mudsills can also cause scaffolds to wobble and even tip over.
- Tipping over or collapsing scaffolds. Scaffolds themselves, when not properly erected, and/or maintained, can tip or even collapse completely. Without the proper braces, screw jacks, and supports, scaffolds are more likely not to stand the test of time. New York has seen far too many scaffold collapses, injuring workers and passersby below.
Lack of toe boards can contribute to objects falling or rolling from one level to another. Toe boards come in all shapes and sizes, but are essentially a strip, or barrier, at the edge of a scaffold or roof that is there to prevent objects from rolling onto the level below. They are also there to give workers an idea where the edge is to prevent workers from falling.
Do I have to workers’ comp back when I settle my case?
Yes! This is a terrible law, but it’s true. If you’ve been injured at work, your medical bills and lost wages were probably paid for by the workers compensation insurance company of your employer.
Let’s say you also have a personal injury case going, i.e., you have sued the general contractor and building owner for violating safety regulations that contributed to you getting injured. Now, you are about to settle that personal injury case. Your lawyer tells you that the workers’ compensation insurance company is exerting a lien and wants to be paid back. Unfortunately, the workers compensation insurance company has every right to do this.
One positive aspect of this law is that the workers’ compensation insurance company has to reduce their lien by one third. Here are some numbers that might help.
Let’s say the workers’ compensation insurance company spent $90,000 on your treatment and lost wages. You were pretty badly injured. You needed arthroscopic surgery on your shoulder, and a few months of physical therapy. The liability insurance company for the general contractor and the building owner offers to settle your case for $200,000.
Unfortunately, you do not get to keep the full $200,000. You have to pay workers’ comp back, but they have to reduce their lien by 1/3. (1/3 of 90,000 = 30,000.). So, you only have to pay workers’ comp back $60,000, resulting in a net payment to you of $140,000.
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NYC Scaffold Law
Many construction accidents are governed by labor law 240(1) which has come to be know as “The Scaffold Law.” This law is very nuanced and complex. The basic idea of the law is that if a construction worker falls from a height, the general contractor and owner of the structure are “absolutely liable” for any injuries that occur. This means that the comparative fault of the worker is not taken into account, unless the worker is deemed to be 100% at fault. So, even if there is evidence that the worker was not paying attention, i.e., was not exercising care for their own safety, the accident is considered 100% the fault of the general contractor and the owner of the building.
Workers Compensation After a Scaffolding Accident in New York City
An injured worker is entitled to workers compensation payments from their employer. Most people working at construction sites are employed by subcontractors – electrical, plumbing, masonry etc. The trade-off for this is that you generally can’t sue your employer for a work-related construction accident. Workers’ compensation, “Workers’ comp,” covers a portion of your salary and all of your medical bills, potentially for life, related to an accident. If you then settle a case against other entities, the workers’ comp insurance company is entitled to get some of their money back from your settlement proceeds.
What if something falls from a scaffolding onto me?
Labor law 240(1) also applies to instances where something falls on someone. The owner and general contractor at the construction site are generally held to be absolutely liable for a situation where an object falls on a workers.
What if my co-workers drops something on me from a scaffolding?
While it may sound hard to believe, even if the person who is responsible for your accident is a co-worker, you can still bring a claim against the building owner and general contractor. On the “Results” page of my website, there is such a case listed. My client was a union carpenter who sustained a very serious neck injury when a co-worker dropped a piece of sheetrock on his neck. My client was handing the sheet rock up towards the co-worker and the co-worker lost his grip, dropping the sheetrock on my client’s neck. Even though the general contractor and building owner had nothing to do with this specific accident, they would have been held responsible for it. (The case settled before that issue was decided by a judge.)