Roofing accidents (especially collapsing roofs) often result in serious, life-threatening injuries. When your roofing accident is caused by someone else’s negligence, you can bring a personal injury claim. A personal injury lawsuit will allow you to be compensated for
- medical expenses and
- provide a wage replacement.
However, if the accident was due to the negligence of a third party, you may be able to file a personal injury claim to seek additional damages.
When a family member is killed in a roofing accident, the family may be faced with losing a source of family support and income. By filing a wrongful death lawsuit, the family members can hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions. A wrongful death claim also allows the family to seek compensation for their loss.
Below, our California personal injury lawyers discuss the following frequently asked questions about roofing accidents and lawsuits for damages:
- 1. Who is liable for my roofing accident injuries?
- 2. Can I file a lawsuit if I was injured on-the-job in a roofing accident?
- 3. What damages are available after a roofing accident?
- 4. Can I sue the roofing company for something one of their employees did?
- 5. Who can file a lawsuit if someone was killed in a roofing accident?
If you have further questions about injuries related to roofing accidents after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
1. Who is liable for my roofing accident injuries?
Under negligence law, anyone who breached their duty of care that caused harm to you may be liable for your damages. Negligence lawsuits hold a party liable for their actions or inaction that resulted in your injury.
In order for you to win a negligence lawsuit, you must prove:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care;
- The defendant breached that duty of care through negligent action or inaction; and
- The defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing your injuries.1
A duty of care can be spelled out in a statute or state law, but there is also a general duty of care that applies to everyone to prevent causing foreseeable harm to others. Under the California civil code, the general duty of care is that:
“Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person, except so far as the latter has, willfully or by want of ordinary care, brought the injury upon himself or herself.”2
Even if the person who caused the accident does not know you, they can still be held accountable for negligence that resulted in harm.
In a roofing accident, the individual or group that is responsible for causing a roofing accident could include:
- Roofing company;
- Ladder manufacturer;
- Property manager;
- Property owner;
- Renter or tenant;
- Construction company;
- Contractor or subcontractor; or
- Government agency.
Lawsuits for accidents and injuries caused by falling and defective ladders are especially common.
Also refer to our related article on construction lawsuits.
1.1. Is the property owner responsible for the accident?
When you fall off a roof because of dangerous conditions on that roof, the property owner or occupier may be liable for the accident. Under California’s premises liability laws, property owners owe a duty of care to others on their property.
Property owners and occupiers have a duty to maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition. This includes a duty to use reasonable care to discover any unsafe conditions.
When any unsafe conditions are found, the property owner has a duty to repair or warn you about anything that could reasonably be expected to cause injury or harm.3
Example: Larry the landlord managed an apartment complex in Woodland Hills. Larry needed to take down some old holiday lights that were on the edge of the roof. Larry knew the roof was in bad shape and not up to building code, and he didn’t want to risk having the roof give way while he was taking off the lights.
Larry asked his tenant, Jack, to help take down the lights. Jack asked why Larry wasn’t taking down the lights and Larry said he hurt his back. Jack offered to help take down the lights. While Jack was on the roof, a portion of the roof fell through and Jack tripped, falling off the roof and breaking his collarbone and causing other shoulder injuries, neck injuries, and back injuries.
Larry was aware of the poor condition of the roof and did not warn Jack about a possible roof collapse. Larry may be liable to Jack for his injuries as a result of a ceiling collapse accident under negligence or property liability laws.
In a premises liability claim, you have the burden of proof to show the following 4 elements:
- The defendant owned, occupied, or controlled the property;
- The defendant was negligent in the use or maintenance of the property;
- You suffered an injury or were harmed;
- The defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing your harm.4
1.2. What if faulty equipment caused the roofing accident?
If a piece of faulty equipment causes a roofing accident, you may have a product liability claim against the equipment manufacturer or vendor. Under California’s products liability law, whoever designs, manufactures, or sells a defective product is strictly liable for the harm caused by the product.5
In a roofing accident, equipment malfunctions or defects could involve:
- Defective ladders;
- Defective cranes;
- Defective harnesses or ropes;
- Defective cables; or
- Defective roofing material.
In a product liability lawsuit, product defects generally involve a defect in the way the product was:
Example: Michael is climbing up on his roof to clean pine needles out of the gutters. Michael was worried about working from such a height and purchased a safety harness at the hardware store that looped around his chimney to hold him in case he slipped. The instructions showed how to tie the harness for security and Michael followed the instructions.
While Michael was cleaning out the gutters, he slipped and fell off the edge of the roof. The safety harness came undone and Michael fell, hitting his head on the ground below. Michael suffered traumatic brain injury and other serious injuries and was taken to the hospital.
Michael’s criminal defense attorney investigating the accident found the instructions were printed incorrectly and showed the wrong way to tie the harness. Even though the harness would have been effective if used properly, the instructions were defective, which caused the harness to fail, resulting in harm.
Michael may be able to win a personal injury claim against the harness manufacturer or the hardware store that sold the harness under California product liability laws.
2. Can I file a lawsuit if I was injured on-the-job in a roofing accident?
On-the-job accidents in California may be treated differently than other types of personal injury accidents. When you are injured at work, the claim is generally handled through a workers’ compensation claim.
A workers’ comp claim is a separate process from a personal injury lawsuit. In many workplace injury accidents, you will be unable to file a personal injury lawsuit.
A workers’ comp claim is generally much faster than a lawsuit, and you do not have to prove negligence. However, the trade-off with a workers’ comp claim is that you are more limited in your damages and what you can recover.
A workers’ comp claim is generally limited to things like
- medical treatment and
- partial wage replacement.
However, in a workers’ comp claim, you cannot seek damages for things like pain and suffering.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), roofing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the U.S. 7 Almost one-third of fatal falls in the construction industry involved falling off a roof.8 For many injured roofers, your compensation may be limited to a workers’ comp claim.
However, some workplace injuries may still allow you to file a personal injury lawsuit. This includes injuries caused by the negligence of a third party (other than the employer or other employee.
Talk to your California personal injury attorney to help you determine whether you can file a personal injury lawsuit after a workplace roofing accident.
3. What damages are available after a roofing accident?
In a personal injury lawsuit, the “damages” is an award you are seeking for compensation. This is to compensate you for your expenses and harm suffered.
Compensatory damages are supposed to put you into a similar position you were in before the accident. Damages in a roof accident lawsuit may include:
- Medical treatment,
- Surgery (such as fusion surgeries),
- Long-term care,
- In-home care,
- Physical therapy,
- Medications and medical supplies,
- Lost income,
- Loss of future earnings,
- Loss of consortium,
- Compensation for disfigurement,
- Emotional damage, and
- Pain and suffering.
4. Can I sue the roofing company for something one of their employees did?
An employer may be liable for the wrongful actions of their employee. Under California’s “respondeat superior” laws, an employer may be responsible for paying the damages caused by an employee’s negligence.9
Accidents related to roofing injuries can
- be serious and
- result in expensive medical care.
Negligence in roofing installation may also result in extensive and expensive home repairs.
You may not think there is any point to suing a roofing worker who may not have enough money to pay for the damages. However, because an employer is vicariously liable, you can go after the deeper pockets of the employer (who is also likely to carry insurance).
If the employee of a roofing company caused the accident, the roofing company can also be held liable for hiring someone who was not fit for the job. The roofing company may be directly liable for negligent hiring, training, or supervising an employee.10
5. Who can file a lawsuit if someone was killed in a roofing accident?
If someone is killed in a roofing accident, the deceased victim cannot file a personal injury lawsuit. Instead, certain family members may be able to seek compensation through filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
When a family loses a loved one, they may not be thinking about filing a lawsuit. However, filing a wrongful death claim allows the family to:
- Hold the wrongdoer accountable for their actions;
- Help prevent a similar accident from happening to someone else in the future; and
- Get a financial award to help pay for the funeral costs and compensate the family for their loss.11
Under California’s wrongful death statute, only certain family members can receive wrongful death compensation. This includes:
- Spouse or domestic partner;
- Grandchildren (if there are no surviving children); or
- Anyone else entitled under California intestate succession laws.
The compensation available after a wrongful death lawsuit includes economic and non-economic damages. These damages are intended to compensate the family for the loss of a loved one and cover related expenses, including:
- Funeral and burial expenses;12
- Loss of financial support from the deceased;
- Loss of services;13 and
- Loss of companionship, support, and affection.
- California Civil Jury Instructions (“CACI”) 400.
- See California Civil Code section 1714(a).
- CACI 1001. Premises Liability. Duty of Care.
- CACI 1000. Premises Liability. Essential Factual Elements. See also Pineda v. Ennabe (1998) 61 Cal.App.4th 1403, 1407 (The liability of landowners for injuries to people on their property is governed by general negligence principles.)
- Soule v. GM Corp. (1994) 8 Cal.4th 548, 560 (“A manufacturer, distributor, or retailer is liable in tort if a defect in the manufacture or design of its product causes injury while the product is being used in a reasonably foreseeable way.”)
- See CACI Series 1200 — Products Liability.
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) — Accident Search — Roofer.
- Fatal falls from roofs among U.S. construction workers, Xiuwen Sue Dong. Journal of Safety Research. Volume 44, February 2013.
- Perez v. Van Groningen & Sons, Inc. (1986) 41 Cal.3d 962, 967 (“Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer is vicariously liable for his employee’s torts committed within the scope of the employment.”)
- See CACI 426 — Negligent Hiring, Supervision, or Retention of Employee. See also Doe v. Capital Cities (1996) 50 Cal.App.4th 1038, 1054 (“California case law recognizes the theory that an employer can be liable to a third person for negligent hiring, supervising, or retaining an unﬁt employee.”)
- California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 (“A cause of action for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another may be asserted by any of the following persons or by the decedent’s personal representative on their behalf: (a) The decedent’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children, or, if there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession.”)
- Vander Lind v. Superior Court (1983) 146 Cal.App.3d 358.
- See California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 3921.