Construction is a major contributor to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), employing nearly 10 million workers nationwide. In Pennsylvania alone, construction contributed more than $34 billion to the state’s economy in 2019. Construction work is often difficult and dangerous, with thousands of workers suffering serious injuries every week. The Philadelphia construction accident lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP are dedicated to helping injured workers restore their dignity and financial security. We have helped clients successfully navigate the Workers’ Compensation system and obtain third-party injury settlements.
Construction site injuries may be minor, serious, or fatal. The most common types of minor injuries are sprains, strains, bruises, and cuts. Oftentimes, these types of injuries result from lifting or falls. However, lifting injuries may seem minor at first, but can easily develop into chronic and painful medical conditions. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a back disorder may become serious later as the musculoskeletal system suffers repetitive microtrauma.
Other types of serious injuries resulting from construction accidents include the following:
The road to recovery from any of these injuries may be arduous and expensive. Construction accident victims might require hospitalization, repeated surgeries, physical therapy, and/or treatment for chronic pain. In the case of amputations, brain injury, or spinal cord damage, they may also need to purchase wheelchairs or other assistive devices. Extended periods of disability can bring financial ruin.
Every workplace accident occurs under a unique set of circumstances. Workers’ Compensation benefits are generally limited to the amount needed to cover the cost of medical expenses and a percentage of lost wages. However, it is often the case that construction accidents are the result of negligent third parties. Under these circumstances, injured workers may have legal grounds for filing third-party claims for damages. Examples of settlements obtained by Galfand Berger LLP for construction accident victims filing third-party claims include the following:
Brain injury. A forklift struck a crane operator in the back, causing extensive blood loss that resulted in a brain injury. Galfand Berger LLP recovered $4.7 million by demonstrating that the dealer who sold the forklift did not outfit the truck with flashing lights to alert bystanders.
Electric shock. A journeyman plumber was awarded more than a half million dollars for injuries suffered when he received a shock by touching a copper sanitation line when working in the basement of a hospital building. He developed reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) as a result of the shock, rendering him unable to return to work as a plumber. The owner of the hospital building allowed the dangerous condition to exist.
Fracture. Galfand Berger LLP obtained a settlement of $1 million for a demolition worker who suffered a fractured hip when he was hit by a third-party truck on a construction site. He endured months of rehabilitation because of an infection he developed after surgery.
Spinal cord damage. A worker employed by a framing subcontractor fell 18 feet while installing bracing on a house under construction. He suffered numerous serious injuries, including spinal cord compression, fractures, paraplegia, and chronic pain. Galfand Berger LLP determined that the developer failed to provide adequate fall protection or safety training for workers at this location. The case was settled for $8 million.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), construction work is one of the top 10 most dangerous jobs in the United States. Unfortunately, fatalities in the construction industry have been increasing in recent years. The following factors contribute to making construction sites dangerous:
Trenching and excavation are also dangerous tasks performed at construction sites. According to OSHA, an excavation is any man-made cut, cavity, or trench formed by earth removal. A trench, in particular, is an excavation that is deeper than it is wide and does not exceed 15 feet in width.
Construction workers should know that the Fatal Four refers to the four causes of construction accidents that account for more than half of all construction industry fatalities:
OSHA put a spotlight on these four types of accidents because they kill more than 500 construction workers each year in the United States. More than one in three construction worker fatalities occur as a result of falling. Tragically, most falls could have been prevented if only employers and responsible third parties would follow OSHA guidelines on fall protection.
Trench cave-ins are one type of caught-between accident. In fact, cave-ins cause more worker fatalities than any other type of excavation-related accident. Employers can prevent cave-ins by ensuring that trenches are inspected at the start of each shift and after rainstorms. Professional engineers should be employed to design protective systems for trenches deeper than 20 feet.
Employers are legally responsible for ensuring a safe work environment. This includes following OSHA guidelines for providing safety equipment and devices, as well as offering training for workers in a language they understand. They must also provide resources for keeping the jobsite free of dangerous debris.
Although this sounds fairly straightforward, OSHA violations are all too common. In fact, it is not a coincidence that fall protection violations top OSHA’s annual list of citations each year and falls cause more fatalities than any other type of construction accident. OSHA outlines three basic features of fall protection:
Employers are also responsible for keeping forklifts and other vehicles well maintained, and clearly posting exclusion zones in which pedestrians may not walk. Employers should also isolate energy sources and establish minimum clearance for power lines.
Third parties who manufacture or sell equipment used on construction sites are responsible for ensuring that all necessary safety devices and features are properly installed. Landlords and building owners are responsible for detecting and remediating dangerous conditions on their properties.
Workers who are injured in a construction accident should take the following steps:
After obtaining immediate medical attention, the injured worker must follow guidelines posted in the workplace for providing supervisors with a Notice of Injury. This triggers an employer’s legal obligation to pay Workers’ Compensation to the injured employee. Employers who have not received a Notice of Injury may deny benefits by stating they had no way to know that an employee’s disability was due to a workplace accident.
Workers often miss out on benefits because they do not fully understand their legal rights. They may think that it is not necessary to contact a lawyer for help. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry offers useful advice regarding hiring a lawyer:
Construction workers often spend years performing grueling tasks in all types of weather to earn a living. Employers must fulfill their duty to them if they become injured on the job. A construction accident lawyer can give injured workers a much better chance at obtaining the funds they deserve and need to recover.
In addition, workers should always seek the advice of a lawyer to determine whether they may also collect damages from third parties in addition to receiving Workers’ Compensation benefits.
Workers injured in construction accidents are still entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits, even if they had a previous condition, provided that the accident contributed to or aggravated the disability. For example, a pre-existing back condition may be tolerable until lifting a heavy object at work causes severe and debilitating pain. Unfortunately, employers or their insurers may try to avoid paying Workers’ Compensation by arguing that the pain is due entirely to a pre-existing condition. An experienced lawyer can counter those arguments by collecting evidence and presenting it convincingly in a hearing.
Employees who are injured in a construction accident should always speak with a lawyer about the circumstances of an accident to determine whether they have a valid third-party claim. Not all accidents will qualify, as it is not enough to demonstrate that an employer was negligent in their duty to provide a safe workplace. This is because Workers’ Compensation shields employers from that liability. However, many times, persons or entities other than the employer also bear responsibilities that may have been neglected. Examples include the following:
Whereas Workers’ Compensation benefits are primarily limited to medical expenses and lost wages, third-party claims may allow injured workers to file for damages for pain and suffering, and in some cases, punitive damages.
Galfand Berger LLP has won numerous third-party claims for injured construction workers, including a $3.4 million settlement for an accident involving a forklift.
The worker, a 35-year-old crane operator, suffered a fractured rib and damage to an artery near his aorta when he was struck in the back by a forklift prong. The young man subsequently suffered a heart attack because of blood loss and a brain injury that left him a quadriplegic. An equipment company was found to have negligently installed the forklift prongs and failed to install safeguards, flashing lights, and other safety equipment that would have prevented the victim’s accident.
Filing for Workers’ Compensation can be a complex process for employees who have been injured in a construction accident. In addition to ensuring the best possible outcome for employees seeking Workers’ Compensation benefits, the Philadelphia construction accident lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP can determine whether a third party other than the employer is legally responsible for a workplace injury. To schedule a free consultation, call 800-222-8792 or contact us online. From our offices in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania, we proudly serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including Allentown and Harrisburg.