Scaffolding Accident Law: How to File a Lawsuit

Scaffolding related accidents cause almost 4,500 injuries and 60 deaths per year.1 When someone is injured on scaffolding or falls from a scaffold, the victim may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit for compensation.

Compensation in a personal injury claim can include:

Scaffolding accidents can be caused by defective equipment, negligence, or property owners who fail to provide safe conditions. When filing a personal injury lawsuit against those responsible for a scaffolding accident, the victim can file a claim against:

  • The scaffolding manufacturer,
  • Construction company,
  • Contractor or subcontractor,
  • Construction worker, or
  • Property owner.

Below, our California personal injury lawyers discuss the following frequently asked questions about scaffold collapse and scaffolding accident law:

If you have further questions about scaffolding accidents after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

Scaffolding accidents can be caused by defective equipment, negligence, or property owners who fail to provide safe conditions.

1. What causes scaffolding accidents?

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), thousands of people are injured every year in scaffolding accidents, including almost 60 fatal accidents annually. Most of these injuries involve construction site accidents. The majority of workers injured in scaffold accidents reported the accidents were caused by:

When scaffolding is put up in a hurry or employees are not properly trained in scaffold safety, unsecured supports or planking can cause someone walking on the scaffolding to trip or slip and fall. Damaged or rusted scaffolding or rotted wood can cause scaffolding to collapse. Other scaffolding accidents may be caused by:

  • Improper training,
  • Lack of supervision,
  • Unsecured scaffolding,
  • Defective scaffolding
  • Scaffolding touching electric wires,
  • Scaffold roofing accidents, or
  • Other workplace injuries.

2. Who is at fault for a scaffolding accident?

In a personal injury lawsuit, the person or group “at fault” for causing the accident may have to pay damages to anyone injured in the accident. Liability in a construction site accident is generally determined by the following causes of action:

  • Negligence,
  • Premises Liability, or
  • Product Liability.

2.1. Negligence

To recover damages in a personal injury lawsuit, the injury victim has to prove the following:

  1. The defendant owed the injury victim a duty of care;
  2. The defendant breached that duty of care;
  3. The breach caused the victim's injuries; and
  4. As a result of the breach, the victim suffered damages.2
Example: Jack is working on a building construction site in El Segundo setting up scaffolding. Jack knows he is the only one who will be on the scaffolding so he sets it up quickly without all the guardrails, midrails, and toeboards. When Jack is getting ready to leave for the day, he knocks over a toolbox which falls off the scaffolding because there was no rail.
Jen is walking on the sidewalk by the construction site. The toolbox hits Jen on the head, causing a concussion and requiring medical attention.
Jen can file a lawsuit against Jack for negligence. Jack breached his duty of care by failing to properly set up the scaffolding. As a result of not putting up the rails, the toolbox fell off the scaffold and hit Jen, causing damage.

Employers Can Be Liable for Employee Negligence

Under “respondeat superior” laws, an employer may be vicariously liable for the negligence of their employees. An individual employee may not have enough money to pay for damages involving a scaffolding accident. However, the employer is more likely to be able to pay for damages or have insurance that will compensate the injury victim.3

In a vicarious liability claim against the employer, the victim has to show:

  1. He or she was injured as a result of the employee's negligence, and
  2. The employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment when the incident occurred.4
Example: In the example above, Jen also files a lawsuit against Jack's employer, Scaffolder's Construction. The owner of Scaffolder's Construction says they did not do anything wrong because the accident was Jack's fault.
However, Jack was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. Therefore, Scaffolder's Construction may be vicariously liable for Jack's negligence and will likely have to pay for Jen's damages.

2.2. Property Owner's Liability

Property owners have a duty to others who come on their property legally to keep the property in a safe condition. If a property owner or occupier has scaffolding set up on the property, the owner may be responsible for making sure the scaffolding is not a hazard to visitors.

Under premises liability laws, property owners generally have a duty to repair hazardous conditions or to warn others about dangers.5

Example: Andie owns McPhee's Apartments in Ventura, California. Audrey is a tenant in the apartment building. Andie is having new stucco put up on the outside of the apartment building. There is scaffolding set up around the front of the building.
Andie planned to close off the front entrance and have tenants come through the back during the project. However, Andie got a phone call about a leaking pipe and never put up the signs to keep people from using the front entrance.
Audrey returned from work and walked into the front of the building. While walking under the scaffolding, a worker accidentally dropped a trowel, hitting Audrey and cutting her face, requiring stitches and medical treatment.
Audrey may have a claim against the worker and Andie. Andie may have had a duty to warn tenants about the construction on the building. Andie did not warn the tenants about the safety hazards and Audrey was injured as a result.

2.3. Defective Scaffolding Equipment

Even when workers follow safety regulations and put scaffolding up the right way, a defect in the scaffolding equipment can cause it to collapse, causing serious injuries.

In a products liability lawsuit, anyone who designs, manufactures, or sells a defective product is strictly liable for damages caused by the product defect. The victim does not need to show that any one person was negligent. Instead, the plaintiff needs to prove:

  1. The defendant designed, manufactured, or sold the product;
  2. The product was defective when it left the defendant's possession;
  3. The plaintiff used the product in a reasonably foreseeable manner; and
  4. The plaintiff suffered damage as a result of the defect.6

A defective scaffolding product liability claim can be based on:

3. How much can you get in damages after a scaffolding accident?

In a personal injury lawsuit, the amount of money the plaintiff is seeking is called “damages.” Compensatory damages are intended to compensate the victim for his or her losses caused by the accident. This includes both economic (like medical bills) and non-economic damages (pain and suffering). Lawsuit damages can include:

  • Medical expenses,
  • Loss of income from not being able to work,
  • Loss of future earning potential,
  • Compensation for scars,
  • Compensation for loss of a limb,
  • Loss of consortium,
  • Emotional harm, and
  • Pain and suffering.

Damages in a Fatal Scaffolding Accident

Falling from scaffolding can result in fatal injuries. After a fatal scaffolding accident, the surviving family members may be able to file a lawsuit for damages. A wrongful death lawsuit is also a way for the wrongdoer to be held accountable for their negligence.7

The family can file a lawsuit for damages to pay for the funeral and burial expenses. The family can also seek damages for the loss of financial support, and loss of companionship.

4. Can I file a lawsuit against my employer after a scaffolding accident?

When an employee is injured on the job, damages may be limited to workers' compensation claims. Workers' comp is a type of insurance program to compensate workers who are injured in the workplace.

Workers' comp does not require the worker to prove negligence. Instead, employees are compensated for medical expenses related to the injury and given wage replacement. However, an injured worker has limited options for suing their employer.

However, a worker may still be able to file a lawsuit against an employer if the employer:

  • Willfully and physically assaulted the employee;
  • The injury was aggravated by something the employer fraudulently concealed; or
  • The employer did not have workers' comp insurance.8

Other injuries in the workplace may not be limited by workers' comp. For example, if the accident was caused by a third-party or independent contractor, the victim may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit for damages.

5. Scaffolding Accident Settlements and Jury Verdict Awards

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For questions about scaffolding accident claims or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our skilled personal injury attorneys, do not 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. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Safety and Health Topics. Scaffolding. (Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 2003 and 2004 data for the private sector).
  2. See e.g., 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.”) See also Turner v. Mandalay Sports Entm't, LLC, 124 Nev. 213, 180 P.3d 1172 (2008); Perez v. Las Vegas Med. Ctr., 107 Nev. 1, 4, 805 P.2d 589 (1991).
  3. 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.”)
  4. See, e.g., California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 3701 -- Tort Liability Asserted Against Principal--Essential Factual Elements. See also Lisa M. v. Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital (1995) 12 Cal.4th 291, 296–297 (“The rule of respondeat superior is familiar and simply stated: an employer is vicariously liable for the torts of its employees committed within the scope of the employment.“)
  5. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017) 1000. Premises Liability. Essential Factual Elements. See also Sprecher v. Adamson Companies (1981) 30 Cal.3d 358.
  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. 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.”)
  8. Cal. Lab. Code § 3706.

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