Victims of construction site accidents in California can file a personal injury lawsuit against the individuals or companies responsible for the accident. A personal injury lawsuit will allow the victim to get compensation for his or her injuries, including:
If someone is killed in a construction accident, the surviving family can file a wrongful death lawsuit against those responsible. A wrongful death claim will allow the family to get compensation for the loss of a loved one.
When a construction accident happens on the job, the employer may be covered by the company's workers' compensation claim. Workers' comp generally covers medical bills related to the accident and replaces lost income. However, an injured worker in California may still be able to file a lawsuit against a third-party who was responsible for the accident.
Below, our California personal injury lawyers discuss the following frequently asked questions about construction accident lawsuits:
- 1. Who is responsible for a construction site accident?
- 2. What are damages in a California construction accident lawsuit?
- 3. Can I file a lawsuit if I was injured on the job in a construction site accident?
- 4. Can family members after a construction accident death?
- 5. Can I still file a lawsuit if I might be at fault in the construction accident?
- 6. Common Causes of Construction Site Accidents
If you have further questions after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
When someone is injured in a construction site accident, he or she can file a personal injury lawsuit against the parties responsible for the accident. Whoever is liable may have to pay out an award to the injured individual to cover damages.
The parties responsible for construction accidents 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;
- Contractor or subcontractor; or
- City or government agency.
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, the plaintiff must prove the following:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff 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.1
If the plaintiff can show that the defendant was negligent in causing the construction accident, the defendant would be responsible for the plaintiff's damages.
1.2. 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 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, the plaintiff must prove:
- The defendant owned, occupied, or controlled the property;
- The defendant was negligent in the use or maintenance of the property;
- The plaintiff was harmed;
- The defendant's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's harm.2
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 a dangerous area. Accidents in a construction area could include:
- Fall from an elevated area without a railing,
- Fall down temporary stairs,
- Slip and fall on a wet surface, or
- Trip on loose flooring.
Example: Philip is a handyman going to Roberta's house to bid on a job in North Hollywood. Roberta wants to have her basement finished including fixing the stairs. Roberta tells Philip about the basement job but not about the broken stairs.
Philip goes down the stairs to check out the basement and the broken stairs fall apart, causing Philip to fall, breaking his arm. Philip has hospital bills and has to miss work until he has recovered from the accident.
In this case, Roberta may be liable for Philip's injuries. Roberta owned the property and did not warn about the dangerous condition of the stairs. Roberta's negligence was a substantial factor in Philip's accident.
1.3. 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 California's “Respondeat Superior” laws, an employer can also be vicariously liable for the employee's negligence.3
Example: Stefan is walking past a construction site on his way to work in Santa Monica. Tammy is a construction worker working on the roof of a new building. Tammy does not secure her hammer in her tool belt and puts it down on the slanted roof. The hammer slides off and falls, hitting Stefan on the head.
Stefan suffers a brain injury and is no longer able to work as a result of the injury. Stefan will also require medical care for the rest of his life. Stefan files a lawsuit against Tammy and the construction company.
If the court finds Tammy liable for Stefan's injuries, Tammy might not have enough money to pay for Stefan's damages. However, the construction company may be liable for Tammy's negligence. Under vicarious liability, Stefan could seek damages against the construction company, which is more likely able to cover the expensive damage claim. (See also our page on filing a lawsuit for injuries sustained in a roofing accident.)
1.4. Product Defects
Some construction accidents are caused by a faulty or defective product. Under California's products 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.4
Strict liability for product defect claims involve the following types of defects:
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.
Example: Victoria is reviewing architectural plans for a construction project at a building site in Van Nuys. A crane is lifting a pallet of bricks up to a higher floor when the cable breaks causing the bricks to fall. Victoria's leg is broken by one of the falling bricks, requiring medical treatment.
The cable is inspected and it reveals a defect in the metal that resulted in weakening the cable. 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.
The damages available after a construction site accident in California is money to compensate the injury victim for their costs and losses. This includes compensatory damages, which are intended to restore the plaintiff to before the accident. This includes economic damages and noneconomic damages that do not have an obvious dollar value.
Economic compensatory damages in a construction accident lawsuit may include:
- Medical bills,
- Physical therapy,
- Long-term care,
- Medication and medical supplies,
- Lost wages,
- Lost future income.
Noneconomic damages are intended to compensate the injury victim for losses to the victim and their family caused by the accident, including:
- Loss of consortium,
- Injury to reputation,
- Compensation for loss of a limb,
- Emotional distress, and
- Pain and suffering.
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 the plaintiff for his or her 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. 6
If someone is injured on-the-job in a construction accident, their injuries may be covered by workers' compensation. However, depending on who was injured and who was responsible for the accident, the injured worker may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit.
Workers' compensation limits a workers' legal rights under California law. Injured workers may not be able to file a lawsuit against their employer; however, the injured worker can file a workers' comp claim. A workers' compensation claim will pay for the injured worker's medical bills and cover wage replacement.
The trade-off for workers is that they don't have to show employer negligence after a workplace accident. However, compensation may be limited and the injured worker may have to deal with the employer or insurance company denying their claim.
Individuals injured on-the-job may still be able to file a personal injury claim against negligent third parties or if the injury victim was an independent contractor. Contact a California personal injury lawyer to help you find out whether you may be eligible to file a lawsuit for compensation.
Independent Contractors or Third-Party Negligence
Many individuals working on a construction site are considered independent contractors. Independent contractors injured on a construction site may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the party responsible for the accident.
Workers injured on-the-job 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 doing a construction project in Reseda. William climbs up a ladder to secure the drywall when the rung of the ladder collapses, causing William to fall. William suffers a broken wrist as a result of the fall.
William's employer tells him to file a workers' comp claim. Another employee has a similar accident on the same type of ladder. On closer inspection, the ladder seems to have holes where the rungs are attached. William talks to a personal injury lawyer about the accident who believes the faulty ladder was the cause of the accident.
If William's injury was not caused by a defective ladder, William may be limited to filing a workers' comp claim. However, 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 in California. A wrongful death claim allows certain family members to recover damages when a loved one was killed because of another's wrongful actions.7
Similar to a personal injury claim, the family can seek compensation from those responsible for the accident under claims of negligence, product defects liability, or property owner's liability.
Under California law, only certain family members can seek damages in a wrongful death lawsuit, including:
- Surviving spouses;
- Domestic partners;
- Grandchildren (if the children are deceased); or
- Anyone else who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by California intestate succession laws.
Damages available under a wrongful death lawsuit include:
- Funeral and burial expenses;8
- Value of services the deceased would have provided;9
- Loss of companionship;10
- Loss of support;
- Loss of affection;
- Loss of financial support the deceased would have provided.
Even if the injury victim is partially to blame for the accident, he or she can still file a lawsuit against others who were also a cause of the accident. Under California's “comparative fault” law, the plaintiff can still recover damages based on how much each party was at fault.11
When more than one party is determined to be at fault for the plaintiff's injuries, the jury will decide what percentage each party is at fault. The percentages must add up to 100%. 12
The jury will then decide the total amount of damages. The plaintiff can recover damages based on the defendants' level of fault.
Example: Walter was juggling bricks on a construction site. Alex tried to mix Walter up by throwing another brick to juggle without warning Walter. Walter dropped the bricks, one of which landed on Walter's foot, breaking his toe. Walter has $1,000 in medical bills, as a result.
Walter files a personal injury lawsuit against Alex for negligence. Alex claims Walter was also negligent by juggling with bricks on the construction site. A jury finds Alex is 90% negligent for causing the injury but Walter is 10% responsible for his own injuries.
Based on comparative fault, Walter can recover $900 of the $1,000 damages from Alex (90% of $1,000 is $900). Walter would be responsible for the remaining $100 damages.
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.13
In 2016, there were 4,693 worker fatalities in private industry. Of those, more than 21% were in construction.14
The most frequent hazards and safety citations by OSHA in the construction industry include:
- Fall protection
- Head protection
- Hazard communication
- Electrical wiring, design, and protection 15
Call us for help.
For questions about building site and construction accident lawsuits or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our skilled California personal injury attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group. If your case if in Nevada, please visit our page on filing a construction injury lawsuit in Las Vegas Nevada.
We 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.
- California Civil Jury Instructions ("CACI") 400. See also California Civil Code section 1714(a) (“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.”)
- CACI 1000. Premises Liability. Essential Factual Elements.
- 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.”)
- 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.
- CACI 3940 - Punitive Damages. See also California Civil Code § 3294 (“(a) In an action for the breach of an obligation not arising from contract, where it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice, the plaintiff, in addition to the actual damages, may recover damages for the sake of example and by way of punishing the defendant.”) See also In re Angelia P. (1981) 28 Cal.3d 908.
- 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.
- Same. See also Allen v. Toledo (1980) 109 Cal.App.3d 415.
- California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 405.
- California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 406. (“... you must then decide how much responsibility each has by assigning percentages of responsibility to each person listed on the verdict form. The percentages must total 100 percent.”)
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Worker Safety Series -- Construction. OSHA 3252-05N 2005.
- OSHA Data & Statistics -- Commonly Used Statistics.
- OSHA 3252-05N 2005, see footnote 13 above.