If you are a victim of a construction site accident, you can file a personal injury lawsuit against the individuals or companies responsible for the accident. A personal injury lawsuit can allow you to get compensation for your injuries, including medical costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, and loss of future income.
Here are five key things to know:
- Construction accident victims may have claims against several parties, such as the property owner, construction company, and even the city.
- Typical legal grounds in these lawsuits are negligence and product defects.
- If someone is killed in a construction accident, the surviving family can file a wrongful death lawsuit against those responsible.
- When a construction accident happens on the job, workers’ compensation should cover some medical expenses and lost income.
- Even if you are injured on the job, you may still be able to file a lawsuit against a third party who was responsible for the accident.
If you have further questions after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. Also see our article on construction lawsuits.
What are common causes of construction site accidents?
Construction sites are some of the most common areas for injury accidents. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the construction industry is one of the most dangerous industries in the United States, with a fatality rate higher than the national average.1
In 2016, there were 4,693 worker fatalities in private industry. Of those, more than 21% were in construction.2
Most fatalities on construction sites involve either of the “fatal four“:
- being struck by falling objects,
- electrocutions, and
- getting trapped or caught in between machinery or other equipment.3
What are common construction site injuries?
Accidents on construction sites can cause death or any of the following 10 injuries:
- burns, including first-degree burns (affecting only the skin/epidermis), second-degree burns (which reach the dermis), and third-degree burns (which can reach muscle, nerves, tendons, and bones)
- head, shoulder, and brain injuries, including TBI (traumatic brain injuries)
- spinal cord injuries, which can lead to paralysis
- fractured and crushed bones
- sprained knees, ankles, and wrists
- ligament tears
- contusions and cuts
- injuries from making repetitive motions
- strokes and cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks
- occupational illnesses such as respiratory diseases, blood disorders, and cancers from toxic exposure or radiation (a common example is mesothelioma from asbestos)
Be sure to seek medical treatment as soon as you can. Your medical records will serve as invaluable evidence of your injuries. Waiting to get medical help will raise doubt as to the cause and severity of your injuries.
Who is responsible for a construction site accident?
When you are injured in a construction site accident, you can file a personal injury lawsuit against the parties responsible for the accident. Whoever is liable may have to pay out an award to you to cover damages.
The parties responsible for a construction injury depend on the type of accident and who was involved. Liability for a construction accident could fall on the:
- Property owner;
- Construction worker;
- Construction company;
- Machine manufacturer;
- General contractor or subcontractor; or
- City or government agency.
What are the legal claims in construction accident lawsuits?
Personal injury claims in a construction site accident may be based on:
Most personal injury claims are based on negligence. To prove negligence in a construction accident case, you must prove the following:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care;
- The defendant breached that duty of care through negligence; and
- The defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing the harm or death.4
If you can show that the defendant was negligent in causing the construction accident, the defendant would be responsible for your damages.
2. Premises Liability
Property owners can be held liable for an accident that occurs on their property. Under “premises liability” laws, property owners and occupiers owe a duty of care to others to keep the property safe from dangerous conditions. The duty owed is based on the type of visitor to the property.
In a premises liability personal injury lawsuit, you must prove:
- The defendant owned, occupied, or controlled the property;
- The defendant was negligent in the use or maintenance of the property;
- You were harmed;
- The defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing your harm.5
Example: Roberta hires Philip to fix her basement but fails to tell him the stairs are broken. In this case, Roberta may be liable for Philip’s injuries if he falls on the stairs. Roberta owned the property and negligently failed to warn about the dangerous condition of the stairs.
3. Vicarious Liability of an Employee
Construction site accidents can be caused by negligent employees of the construction company. The negligent employee could be held liable for their actions. However, under “Respondeat Superior” laws, an employer can also be vicariously liable for the employee’s negligence.6
Example: Tammy, a construction worker on a roof, accidentally drops her hammer. This causes Stefan, a pedestrian, to sustain serious injuries. Under vicarious liability, Stefan could seek damages against the construction company, which is more likely able to cover the expensive damage claim than Tammy would be. (See also our page on filing a lawsuit for injuries sustained in a roofing accident.)
4. Product Defects
Some construction accident injuries are caused by faulty or defective equipment. Under product liability laws, whoever designs, manufactures, or sells a defective product is strictly liable for injuries caused by that product. The designer, manufacturer, or seller is liable even if that person or company was not negligent.7
Strict liability for product defect claims involves the following types of defects:
Example: Victoria is injured when a defective crane drops bricks on her leg. Under California product liability laws, the cable manufacturer, vendor, or supplier may be liable for Victoria’s injuries. In a lawsuit for injuries caused by defective crane equipment, Victoria does not have to show that anyone was negligent in causing the accident because these parties have strict liability for product defects.
What are my damages in a construction accident lawsuit?
The damages available after a construction site accident is money to compensate you for your costs and losses. This includes compensatory damages, which are intended to restore you to before the accident. This includes economic damages and non-economic damages that do not have an obvious dollar value.
What are economic damages?
Economic compensatory damages in a construction accident lawsuit may include:
- Medical bills,
- Physical therapy and rehabilitative treatment,
- Long-term care,
- Medication and medical supplies,
- Lost wages,
- Lost future income.
What are non-economic damages?
Non-economic damages are intended to compensate you for incalculable losses caused by the accident, including:
- Loss of consortium,
- Injury to reputation,
- Compensation for loss of a limb,
- Emotional distress, and
- Pain and suffering.
What are punitive damages?
Punitive damages, also called “exemplary” damages may be available in a construction accident when the defendant’s actions were extremely reckless or intentional. Punitive damages are not intended to compensate you for your loss but instead to punish the defendant and deter similar actions in the future.
In a personal injury accident, punitive damages may be available when the defendant has acted with:
- Fraud or oppression,
- Extreme recklessness, or
- Intentionally caused harm. 9
If you are injured on the job in a construction accident, both your minor and serious injuries may be covered by workers’ compensation insurance. However, depending on the case you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit.
Workers’ compensation limits your legal rights. You may not be able to file a lawsuit against your employer. However, you can file a workers’ comp claim. A workers’ compensation claim will
- pay for your medical bills and
- cover wage replacement.
The trade-off is that you do not have to show employer negligence after a workplace accident. However, compensation may be limited, and you may have to deal with the employer or insurance company denying your claim.
What if I am an independent contractor?
Many individuals working on a construction site are considered independent contractors. If you are an independent contractor who was injured on a construction job site, you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the party responsible for the accident.
What if a third-party caused my work injury?
You may also be able to file a personal injury claim against any third-party defendants responsible for the accident. This could include a property owner, equipment manufacturer, or contractor.
Example: William is hanging drywall for his employer when he falls off a ladder. If William’s injury was not caused by a defective ladder, William may be limited to filing a workers’ comp claim. Though if the ladder was defective, William may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the ladder manufacturer or seller based on product liability.
If a construction site accident results in death, the family may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. A wrongful death claim allows certain family members to recover damages when a loved one died because of another’s wrongful actions.10
Similar to a personal injury claim, the family can seek compensation from those responsible for the accident under claims of
- product defects liability, or
- property owner’s liability.
Am I eligible to bring a wrongful death case?
In most cases, only certain family members can seek damages in a wrongful death lawsuit, including:
- Surviving spouses;
- Domestic partners;
- Grandchildren (if the children are dead); or
- Anyone else who has rights to the property of the decedent by California intestate succession laws.
What damages can I get in a wrongful death case?
Damages available under a wrongful death lawsuit include:
- Funeral and burial expenses;11
- Value of services the deceased would have provided;12
- Loss of companionship;13
- Loss of support;
- Loss of affection;
- Loss of financial support the deceased would have provided.
Even if you are partially to blame for the accident, you can still file a lawsuit against others who were also a cause of the accident. Under California’s “comparative fault” law, you can still recover damages based on how much each party was at fault.14
When more than one party is at fault for your injuries, the jury will decide what percentage each party is at fault for. The percentages must add up to 100%. 15
The jury will then decide the total amount of damages. You can recover damages based on the defendants’ level of fault.
Example: Walter was juggling bricks when Alex throws him another brick to juggle without warning. This causes Walter to drop the bricks on his foot, causing $1,000 in damages. A jury finds Alex is 90% negligent for causing the injury but Walter is 10% responsible for his own injuries. Therefore, Walter can recover $900 of the $1,000 damages from Alex.
Other examples of what could cause you to recover less for your injuries include refusing to wear a safety harness/belt or hard hat and failing to follow required safety protocols.
Call us for help.
For questions about building site and construction accident lawsuits in California or anywhere in the United States, do not hesitate to contact our California personal injury lawyers.
If your case is in Nevada, please visit our page on filing a construction injury lawsuit in Las Vegas Nevada. For Colorado cases, see our page on filing a lawsuit for construction site accidents in Colorado.
Our California construction accident lawyers have local law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities. We also practice labor law.
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Worker Safety Series — Construction. OSHA 3252-05N 2005.
- OSHA Data & Statistics — Commonly Used Statistics. The most frequent hazards and safety citations by OSHA in the construction industry include: Scaffolding; Fall protection; Excavations; Ladders; Head protection; Hazard communication; and Electrical wiring, design, and protection.
- OSHA 3252-05N 2005, see footnote 13 above. Top Four Construction Hazards, OSHA. Construction site injuries and death also result from: defective tools – common examples include nail guns, spray guns, power drills, jigsaws, side grinders, electric saws, sanders, and other hand tools; heavy machinery – common examples include bulldozers, forklifts, cranes, pavers, and dumpsters; collapsed scaffolding or trenches – this can occur from improper construction or exceeding the weight limits; fires – these include chemical fires (such as from flammable chemicals and gas main breaks), electric fires (such as from exposed wires getting wet), thermal fires (such as from a blow torch), and other explosions; defective welding or brazing equipment; and people who are improperly trained to use any of the above.
- California Civil Jury Instructions (“CACI”) 400. See also California Civil Code section 1714(a). See, for example, Brannan v. Lathrop Construction Associates, Inc. (Court of Appeal of California, First Appellate District, Division One, 2012) 206 Cal. App. 4th 1170.
- CACI 1000. Premises Liability. Essential Factual Elements. Visitors or customers to store or office buildings may be walking into construction areas without knowing it. Construction areas should have warnings or barriers to prevent people from walking into dangerous areas. Accidents in a construction area could include a: Fall from an elevated area without a railing, fall down temporary stairs, falling objects, slip and fall on a wet surface, or trip on loose flooring.
- Perez v. Van Groningen & Sons, Inc. (1986) 41 Cal.3d 962, 967.
- Soule v. GM Corp. (1994) 8 Cal.4th 548, 560.
- See CACI Series 1200 — Products Liability. Product defects in construction accidents may involve: cutting tools or saws without proper protection, faulty heavy machinery, lawsuits for accidents from faulty or defective ladders or defective scaffolding, heavy machinery without proper safety warnings, electrical machines that cause electric shocks or electrocution, or leaking machines that cause fire or explosions.
- CACI 3940 – Punitive Damages. See also California Civil Code § 3294. See also In re Angelia P. (1981) 28 Cal.3d 908.
- California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60. Toste v. CalPortland Construction (Court of Appeal of California, Second Appellate District, Division Six, 2016) 245 Cal. App. 4th 362.
- Vander Lind v. Superior Court (1983) 146 Cal.App.3d 358.
- See California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 3921.
- Same. See also Allen v. Toledo (1980) 109 Cal.App.3d 415.
- California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 405.
- California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 406.