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New York City Construction Site Accident Attorneys / Safe Place to Work

I Was Hurt on a Construction Site But I Didn’t Fall From a Height. What Rights Do I Have?

Everyone working on a construction site has the right to a safe place to work. This comes from § 200 of the Labor Law, which says that construction sites have to constructed, equipped, arranged, operated and conducted to provide reasonable and adequate protection to the safety of the workers.  If you are injured on a worksite, we may be able to use this law for you against an owner or contractor who had or exercised control over the equipment or the work that caused your injury. This is explained below in the section “Who is Responsible?”.  We can also bring a cause of action under Labor Law § 241(6) if there is a specific Industrial Code violation which caused your accident. This is explained below as well.

What Do We Have to Prove to Win in a Safe Place to Work Claim?

An Owner or Contractor who supervises the work has to use reasonable care to make the work area, and getting to and from the work area, reasonably safe. This means they are responsible for any problems they create, and that they have to fix any problems that they know about, or would have found if they had done a reasonable inspection. If they created or knew about the problem that caused your accident, or if they should have found out about it but didn’t, they are responsible if they didn’t fix it, and we can sue them for your damages.

Who Can Be Held Responsible?

Liability can be established against an owner or general contractor where the injury is caused by a dangerous condition (examples below) on the job site, and can sometimes be established if the injury results from the “means and methods” of work selected by the worker’s employer, but the facts of each case have to be examined in a lot of detail, and each possibility has to be thoroughly checked and carefully developed. An owner will generally be responsible for a dangerous condition that existed on the site before the work began, and the general contractor will generally be responsible for a dangerous condition that existed on the job site for a long time before the accident.  An Owner can only be held responsible for the means and methods of a contractor or a subcontractor where the Owner supervised or controlled the equipment or the safety procedures. Depending on which Court we are in, an Owner or Contractor who had the authority to supervise the work that caused the accident, even if he didn’t actually exercise that authority, can be responsible if we can prove the things described in the last paragraph. This is why it is very important to get all of the construction contract documents and read them carefully. First, the jury has to decide whether the owner or contractor we are suing supervised or had control of the work that resulted in the injury. If they had this control, the jury then has to decide whether the methods, practices, materials and equipment used in the work were unsafe, and whether the particular owner or contractor failed to use enough care to correct any dangerous condition they knew about or should have found if they had done a reasonable inspection. The Defendants y can, and often will, deny they knew about things that were right in front of them all along, but they will not win with a defense like that.

What are Some Examples of “Dangerous Conditions”?

Most, but not all, construction accidents result from “means and methods”, but creative lawyers can present them as “dangerous conditions”, and we will always try to do this for you if possible. For example, a tool mislaid by a by a subcontractor which was left there long enough, was held to be a tripping hazard and a premises condition, rather than a condition arising out the manner of the work, Slikas v. Cyclone Realty LLC, 78 AD3d 144, ( 2nd Dept. 2010) and an unsecured embankment created by a contractor constituted an unsafe premises condition, because it stayed like that for weeks and the contractor was not working on it at the time of the accident was also held to be a dangerous condition, Mayer v. Conrad, 122 AD2d 1366 (4th Dept. 2014). During demolition work, a sidewalk on which the worker was standing broke through because the cellar vault below it collapsed because the beam holding up the sidewalk slab failed. It was left for the jury to decide if this was a dangerous premises condition or something arising out of the manner of the work Espinosa v. Azure Holdings II, LP, 58 A.D.3d 287, 869 N.Y.S.2d 395, (1st Dep’t 2008). In a case where a steamfitter was standing on top of a railing which collapsed, some evidence was found showing the owner had previously cut the section of railing that collapsed and welded it together improperly. The valve the man had to reach was very hard to get to without standing on the rail. It was left for the jury to decide whether the accident was caused by a dangerous premises condition, or by standing on the rail, which was his employer’s chosen method, even though the owner had absolutely nothing to do with the work. Goad v. Southern Elec. Intern. Inc. 304 AD2d 887,3rd Dept. 2002).

An Example of an Accident Caused by the “Means or Methods” of the Work

Where the worker suffered back injuries because he had to work on a platform which forced him to work in a contorted position, this was means and method of the work. However, the worker had to be given a chance to prove that the owner and the contractor actually had some supervision over the work,
so his case still survived to get to a jury. Ross v. Curtis-Palmer Hydro-Elec. Co., 81 N.Y.2d 494, 506, (N.Y. 1993).

What Factors Can Make an Owner or Contractor Responsible for “Means and Methods” Accidents?

The factors to look for are i) actually exercising control over the work; ii) writing and implementing safety guidelines and procedures; iii) having the power to stop the work if they see an unsafe condition or practice; iv) providing general supervision and coordination of the worksite; v) actually having responsibility for the manner in which the work was performed. Other than actually exercising control over the work, no one of these factors will be enough, by itself, to hold an owner or contractor responsible. It also depends which county the case is brought in, because different counties have to follow the rulings of the appellate courts where they are located. The First Department decisions control cases filed in Manhattan and the Bronx, while the Second Department controls cases filed in Queens, Brooklyn, and Long Island. The facts of each case have to be analyzed carefully before the lawsuit is filed, because the exact same case can have a different result depending on which of these appellate courts governs.

Why Does All of This Matter to Me, the Injured Worker?

Anyone who is hurt on the job can bring a worker’s compensation claim, but the money comp pays is very limited, and while you might be able to get a “scheduled award” if you are seriously hurt, you will never get enough to fully compensate you and your family for your future lost wages. You are generally never allowed to sue your employer, because your employer gets a “comp bar”; this means that the worker’s comp insurance he provides for you makes him immune from lawsuits for his negligence and the negligence of his employees (your co-workers). While this is very unfair, this is the law, and it is your lawyer’s job to figure a way around it. Sometimes there will be clear fault on the part of another contractor on the jobsite, and as long it wasn’t your employer, you have a perfectly good negligence lawsuit. For example, where the decking on a sidewalk bridge extended out beyond the supports, and the foreman was unable to see it when he was walking on the deck, he has every right to sue the company that fabricated the bridge for negligence. Most cases will not be so straightforward, and some creative lawyering is often necessary to come up with a strategy to navigate through these complicated rules. You owe it to yourself and your family to choose a law firm that will make every effort to do this for you, because you can only do this once.

Industrial Code Violations, Labor Law § 241(6)

While the Industrial Code rules are more limited in scope than a Labor Law § 200 claim, the important advantage they have is that they can be applied to owners and contractors without having to prove that they actually exercised control over the equipment or the work that caused the accident.

Who Can Be Held Responsible?

Where we have a specific Industrial Code violation, a much wider circle of responsible people can be brought in. Almost all owners of the property and companies that contracted to have the overall job done will usually be held responsible as owners. The general contractor will usually be held responsible, as will any subcontractor who was actually doing the work which caused the accident or who supplied the defective or faulty equipment.

What are some examples of Industrial Code Violations?

The Industrial Code rules are too specific to cover here, but they deal with a wide range of topics. Some examples are eye protection, grinding and polishing machinery, protection from overhead hazards, hazardous openings, slipping and tripping hazards, debris in passageways, head protection, corrosive substances, guards on certain power tools and machinery, protection from electrical hazards, safety railing and harnesses, to name some. The Industrial Code also has certain required specifications for ladders and various types of scaffolding. The courts do hold, though, that Industrial Code requirements that are too general in nature cannot be used for a Labor Law § 241(6) claim; they have to be specific. The specific code violation also has to be the cause of the accident.

Why are Industrial Code Violations Important to the Injured Worker?

If we are able to prove a specific Industrial Code violation in the case, we can hold the owner and the general contractor liable, even if they did not provide the equipment that violated the code, and even if they were not actually exercising control over the work practice that violated the rule. This is important because it allows the injured worker to get around the worker’s compensation bar, which would otherwise prevent any kind of lawsuit in many cases, and limit the worker to a worker’s compensation claim and nothing else. If you are employed by a subcontractor, the owner and the general contractor will often have a “hold harmless” agreement signed by your employer, which means that your employer, the subcontractor, has to pay any damages that the owner and/or general contractor is legally required to pay in connection with the subcontractor’s work. This means that we can get at your employer’s liability insurance in a round about way, and get you full compensation for your injuries and future lost wages.

These Rules are Complicated

If you have had any kind of an accident on a construction site or any accident at work involved with any type of repair or other activity that results in a serious injury, give us a call today and we will be happy to see if we can help you recover compensation for you and your family.

Law Offices of William Cafaro

 

108 West 39th Street
Suite 602
New York, NY, 10018

 

Fax: (212) 583-7401

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