In the wake of the recent news about a tragic construction site accident, I felt it was worthwhile to review some of the basic rules governing who the potentially responsible, or liable, parties are in such an incident, and what an employee must prove in order to win a personal injury claim that arises out of a construction-related accident.  At the outset, it bears mention that these cases are generally governed by New York's Labor Laws, which were enacted to protect "employees" or "workers," as defined by the statutes.

One of the most important rules to remember is that the Workers' Compensation Law bars an employee that received Workers' Compensation benefits from suing directly his co-worker or employer unless he or she sustains one of the 11 categories of "grave injury" that are set forth in Workers' Compensation Law §11. As the term suggests, the injuries that qualify under this section are indeed "grave," as they include death, amputation of leg, foot or arm, or paraplegia, to name a few. Failing that, the injured worker must attempt to recover damages for his personal injuries from other people or entities with a connection to the worksite, such as other contractors and the premises owner.

To that end, New York's legislature adopted a series of general statutes designed to establish basic rules and laws to assure that workers are provided a safe work environment. These basic rules apply to building owners, contractors and employers alike, and are codified in Labor Law §§ 200, 240(1), and 241, et seq. While §200 is more of a catch-all statute, §240(1) sets forth rules requiring owners and contractors to furnish their workers with specific safety devices to protect them against elevation-related risks, such as ladders and scaffolds.

Importantly, unlike section 200, section 241 imposes a non-delegable duty upon the contractor or owner of the site to protect the workers' safety, and in some circumstances where certain safety statutes are violated, §241 mandates that the owner or contractor be held automatically liable for the worker's personal and construction related injuries - i.e., regardless of whether the owner or contractor were actively at fault.

Since the injuries resulting from construction related accidents are typically quite serious, it is not surprising that there has been a substantial amount of litigation, and reported cases, dealing with which cases fit within this statutory scheme to result in an automatic liability finding against the defendants. Unfortunately, these rules and laws are a bit complex. Consequently, if you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a fall at a construction site, or been involved in another construction related accident, chances are you will need to contact a lawyer to help assess the merits of your case.
Jonathan Cooper
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Non-Compete, Trade Secret and School Negligence Lawyer