Lawsuits for Injuries Caused by Crane Accidents

Accidents involving construction or hoisting cranes can leave the victim with serious injuries. A serious or fatal accident can result in expensive medical bills and lost wages. Under personal injury law, accident victims can file a lawsuit against those responsible for the accident to get compensation. Compensation in a personal injury lawsuit can include:

When a crane accident causes death, the family members may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the parties responsible for the accident. By filing a wrongful death claim, the family can make sure to hold the person who caused the accident accountable for their actions. Wrongful death claims can compensate the family for funeral expenses, and other damages.

Many crane injuries involve accidents at construction sites or other dangerous occupations. On-the-job injuries may be covered by workers' comp claims. However, if an independent contractor was injured, or the accident was caused by another third-party, the injured worker may still be able to file a personal injury lawsuit.

Below, our California personal injury lawyers discuss the following frequently asked questions about accidents involving cranes lawsuits:

If you have further questions about crane-related injuries after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

Construction crane
Accidents involving construction or hoisting cranes can leave the victim with serious injuries.

1. Can I file a lawsuit if I was injured in a crane accident?

Filing a personal injury lawsuit after a crane accident may depend on where the accident occurred. If the accident victim was injured on-the-job, workers' comp may cover the accident. However, if a bystander was injured or the worker was injured by a third-party's actions, the victim can file a personal injury lawsuit for damages.

The injury victim, or “plaintiff,” files a lawsuit against whoever may be liable for damages. The defendant or defendants then respond to the plaintiff's complaint. The plaintiff has the burden of proof (by a preponderance of the evidence) to show that the defendants caused the injury and should be held liable for damages.

If you are unsure whether you may be able to file a lawsuit after a crane accident, talk to an experienced crane accident injury lawyer. Even if you were injured on-the-job, you may still be able to file a lawsuit against the crane manufacturer or other third-party.

2. Who can I sue if I was injured by a falling crane?

The person or group responsible for a crane accident depends on the cause of the accident. Anyone who shares in the responsibility for causing the accident may be named as a defendant in a personal injury lawsuit.

In a crane accident, the defendants could include one or more of the following:

  • Project management company;
  • Property owner;
  • Construction company;
  • Crane manufacturer;
  • Crane operator;
  • Crane maintenance worker;
  • Architect;
  • Engineer;
  • Contractor or subcontractor;
  • Inspector; or
  • Government agency.

Accidents caused by cranes, tower cranes, or derricks can be based on:

2.1. Crane Accidents Caused by Negligence

Many crane accidents are caused by negligence. Negligence lawsuits hold a person liable for their actions that caused injury to another. Under a negligence claim, the plaintiff must prove:

  1. The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care;
  2. The defendant breached that duty of care through negligent action or inaction; and
  3. The defendant's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the harm or death.1
Example: Clark lives in a highrise apartment building in downtown LA. The building has a crane on the roof to bring large equipment up to the roof of the highrise. The crane is only rated to carry objects up to 1,000 pounds.
The property owner hires Splinter's Construction to install a new air conditioner on the roof. Splinter's Construction does not want to use the crane multiple times so they load up everything on the crane that weighs 2,000 pounds.
While the crane is bringing the large air conditioner and equipment up the side of the building, the crane breaks, causing the air conditioner to crash through Clark's window. Clark is seriously injured in the accident.
Splinter's Construction may be liable for Clark's injuries because they negligently overloaded the crane which caused the accident.

Some accident victims may not think they should file a lawsuit because the employee who caused the accident doesn't have enough money to pay for the damages. However, under California's “Respondeat Superior” laws, an employer can also be vicariously liable for the employee's negligence.2

This means that if an employee causes a crane accident through negligence, the employer may be liable for damages even if the employer did not directly cause the accident. For an employer to be liable for an employee's actions, the employee must be acting within the ordinary scope of his or her job.

In some cases, the employer may be held directly liable for an accident that was caused by the employer's negligence in hiring, training, or supervising an employee. This involves hiring an employee that the employer knew or should have known was unfit to perform the job which created a particular risk to others.3

Example: Ernest works for Shifty's Cranes. Ernest is bored with operating the crane all day and watches movies on his phone. Because Ernest is not paying attention, he accidentally swings the crane the wrong way, knocking debris onto the sidewalk below.
Samantha is walking on the sidewalk when she is hit on the head by construction debris from the crane. Samantha suffers serious head injuries and is hospitalized.
Samantha files a personal injury lawsuit against Ernest for negligence. If Ernest is found to be responsible for the accident, Shifty's Cranes may also be liable because Ernest was acting within the scope of his job.
When Samantha's lawyer is investigating the accident case, the lawyer learns that Ernest was fired from his previous two jobs for similar incidents. In that event, Shifty's Cranes may also be held directly liable for negligence in hiring Ernest.

2.2. Are property owners liable for crane accidents?

Individual's injured by a crane while on private property may be able to file a claim against the property owner. Under California's premises liability laws, property owners owe a duty of care to others who are legally on their property.

Property owners have a duty of care to keep the property in a reasonably safe condition. Property owners must also use reasonable care to discover any unsafe conditions and repair, replace, or give warning of anything that could reasonably be expected to cause harm.4

The plaintiff in a premises liability lawsuit has to prove the following to get damages from the defendant:

  1. Defendant owned, occupied, or controlled the property;
  2. Defendant was negligent in the use or maintenance of the property;
  3. The plaintiff suffered an injury or was harmed;
  4. The defendant's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's harm.5

2.3. Is the crane company responsible for any accidents or injuries?

If a crane has a defect in the way it was constructed or designed, the crane company may be liable for the product defect. Even a vendor or supplier could be liable for a defective product.

Under California's products liability law, whoever designs, manufactures, or sells a defective product is strictly liable for the harm caused by the product. The plaintiff does not have to prove the crane designer, manufacturer, or seller was negligent, only that the crane was defective when it left the defendant's possession.6

Product liability claims are generally based on the following:

3. What compensation is available after a crane accident injury?

Compensation includes economic and noneconomic damages suffered by the accident victim. Compensatory damages in a personal injury lawsuit are intended to restore the plaintiff to the position he or she was in before the accident. If the victim proves his case, he may be eligible for:

  • Property damage,
  • Medical bills,
  • Long-term care,
  • ER treatment,
  • Medical supplies,
  • In-home medical care,
  • Lost wages from missed work,
  • Loss of earning potential,
  • Loss of consortium,
  • Compensation for loss of a limb,
  • Emotional distress, and
  • Pain and suffering.

4. What happens if my spouse was killed in a crane accident?

Many crane accidents result in fatal injuries. If someone's spouse or family member was killed in a crane accident, the family can file a wrongful death lawsuit. By filing a wrongful death lawsuit, the family can make sure the responsible parties are held accountable for their actions.8

Certain family members can file a wrongful death claim for damages. In California, surviving family members who can file a wrongful death claim include:

  • Spouse or domestic partner;
  • Children;
  • Grandchildren (if there are no surviving children); or
  • Anyone else entitled to property under California intestate succession laws.

Damages in a wrongful death lawsuit are for the losses suffered by the family and not the deceased. The damages available in a wrongful death lawsuit include:

  • Funeral costs;
  • Burial costs;9
  • Loss of financial support the deceased would have provided to the family;
  • Loss of services the deceased would have provided the family;10 and
  • Noneconomic damages for loss of companionship, support, and affection.

5. Can I file a lawsuit if I was injured by a crane at my job?

If someone is injured on the job and has an employer/employee relationship, then the injury victim may have limited options for filing a lawsuit. In most on-the-job injury accidents, workers' compensation covers the injury. By filing a workers' comp claim, the injured worker can have their medical bills paid for and should receive a wage replacement for the time they are not able to work.

Workers' comp is different than a personal injury lawsuit. Most workers' comp injuries are covered without the injury victim having to show negligence or prove the case against the employer. In exchange, the injured worker has limited options for filing a lawsuit. For example, in a workers' comp claim, there are no damages available for pain and suffering.

However, some on-the-job injuries may still allow the injured worker to file a personal injury claim. When the accident was caused by a negligent third-party, the injury victim can file a lawsuit against the party responsible for the accident.

Example: Lucas works as an administrative assistant for a construction company. Lucas is on a building site where a large crane is lifting I-beams up to the top of the 3 story structure. The cable comes loose and the I-beam falls, hitting Lucas and breaking his leg.
Lucas may have a workers' comp claim for his injuries because Lucas was injured on the job. If Lucas files a claim, Lucas may be able to get a partial wage replacement and have his medical bills covered.
However, if Lucas' lawyer finds that the cable was defective and caused the I-beam to come loose, Lucas may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the cable manufacturer under a product liability claim. If Lucas wins his personal injury case, he may be eligible for any damages according to personal injury law.

6. What causes crane accidents to happen?

Crane accidents are caused by a number of reasons, including:

  • Overloading the crane;
  • Contacting power lines;
  • Improper support;
  • Unstable foundations;
  • Operator error;
  • Improper training;
  • Not maintaining crane equipment;
  • Injuries from falling or defective ladders, or
  • Crane design defects.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has standards for addressing the use of cranes and derricks in construction and other industries. This includes establishing guidelines, licensing, certification, and user qualifications.11

The exact cause of each crane accident can require an investigation. In some cases, there are multiple contributing factors behind crane accidents. Some injury victims rely on the insurance company or construction company's explanation for what caused the accident when there could be other causes.

In some cases, companies or supervisors have falsified documents or inspection reports to cover up the real cause of the accident. This could cause an injury victim to decide not to file a personal injury claim when someone else's negligence was to blame for their injuries.

In a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff and defendants may rely on experts to review the evidence and give an expert opinion on the cause of the accident. Experts in crane accident lawsuits may include:

  • Mechanical engineers;
  • Safety engineering experts.
  • Construction industry experts;
  • Oil and gas industry experts;
  • Machinery experts;
  • Accident reconstruction experts; or
  • OSHA experts.
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Call us for help...

For questions about crane accidents or other construction site accidents or to talk confidentially with one of our skilled personal injury attorneys, don't hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

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.


Legal References:

  1. 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.”)
  2. 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.”)
  3. Doe v. Capital Cities (1996) 50 Cal. App. 4th 1038.
  4. CACI 1001. Premises Liability. Duty of Care.
  5. 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.)
  6. 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.”)
  7. See CACI Series 1200 -- Products Liability.
  8. 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.”)
  9. Vander Lind v. Superior Court (1983) 146 Cal.App.3d 358.
  10. See California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 3921.
  11. See OSHA Fact Sheet -- Cranes and Derricks in Construction -- Final Rule.

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