Construction Site Accidents and Third Party Claims
Construction is one the most hazardous industries in the US. Among the nearly 6.5 million construction workers, there are thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of disabling injuries each year. Because all employers at a construction site are responsible for safety, an injured worker will often have a legitimate claim for injuries against an owner/developer, a general contractor or other worksite employer, other than the worker's own employer. This type of claim is known as a "third party" claim and can provide compensation in addition to benefits a worker receives through the Department of Labor and Industries.
Causes of Construction Site Accidents
One out of ten construction workers is accidentally injured every year according to some estimates. The most common causes of construction site fatalities are:
Falls from elevation — 33%
"Struck By" machine or materials — 22%
"Caught in/between" — 18%
Electrocution — 17%.
Roofs and scaffolds are the major location of fatalities due to falls from elevations.
Heavy construction equipment such as trucks, cranes, graders or scrapers are responsible for 75% of the "struck by" fatalities. Many of the fatalities caused by being struck by materials involve poor rigging of loads or poor storage of materials. Surprisingly, 79% of trenching fatalities occur in trenches less than 15 feet.
In light of the dangers associated with construction work, both the State and Federal Government have developed extensive regulations aimed at improving safety at construction sites. Each employer on the jobsite is required to comply with the safety regulations applicable to its scope of work. Failure to comply with these safety regulations is a common cause of fatalities and disabling injuries at construction sites.
Who is Responsible for Construction Site Injuries?
General Contractors, Owners/Developers and Sub Contractors
The potentially responsible parties for construction site accidents include the property owner/developer, the general contractor and each subcontractor on the job that either created the dangerous condition or had the right to exercise control over the condition, conduct or equipment that caused the injury.
In Washington State, the general contractor has the ultimate responsibility for job site safety. Placing the ultimate responsibility on the general contractor makes sense from a practical and economic standpoint. The general contractor has the greatest opportunity and ability to insure compliance with safety regulations. The general contractor is in the best position to coordinate work or provide expensive safety features to protect employees. Holding the general contractor ultimately responsible, increases the general's motivation to implement the necessary precautions, provide the necessary safety equipment or contractually require the subcontractors to do so.
Each subcontractor/employer on the job site similarly has a responsibility to ensure a safe place to work regarding its scope of work and each potential "zone of danger" under its control. Because the injured worker's own employer is generally immune from claims by its own employees under the workers compensation act, the injured worker may look to the general contractor or other subcontractors as the responsible party.
What if you were partially at fault as well?
Each person should acknowledge and accept responsibility for their own conduct. Washington state law provides for proportional shares of fault for damages when the injured worker is partially at fault for their own injuries. Determining the appropriate division of fault can be a contentious topic. The fact that employers or others in charge of the job site create an environment where worker production takes precedence over work site safety, often leads to short cuts and accidents. The general contractor and controlling employers should take responsibility for creating a work site environment that conveys the message "safety is our paramount concern."
Role of Workers Compensation/ Industrial Insurance.
Although the workers compensation program provides injured workers some compensation for lost earnings and pays qualifying medical expenses, industrial insurance does not provide full compensation for all damages a worker and the worker's family sustains from a job related accident. The full measure of damages can only be obtained from a legitimate claim against an entity other than your immediate employer.
The Department of Labor and Industries may request an injured worker to sign a "Third Party Election Form". If you believe an entity other than your own employer was at least partially at fault for causing your injuries you should:
Contact an attorney who is knowledgeable and experienced in construction
accident law before you sign and return a third party election form to the
Department of Labor and Industries.
If you or a loved one sustained a serious injury due to a construction site accident, you may be entitled to compensation in addition to Labor and Industry benefits. You should consult with an attorney who is knowledgeable and experienced in construction accident law.