Articles Posted in Construction Accidents

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This Syracuse New York personal injury lawyer loves to travel all over the world.  I find other cultures and places fascinating.  Last year I went to Japan.  And this year it was Egypt, Jordan and Israel.  (Just got back last week).  See some pics I took above.

When I travel, because of what I do for a living, I can’t help noticing how other societies organize and structure their safety rules. I’m always on the lookout for dangerous conditions and am impressed when I see really safe practices. For example, in Japan I was impressed how pedestrians would wait for their light to turn green even when there was no motor vehicle anywhere near the intersection.  I went right ahead and crossed if there was nothing coming.  Made no sense to me to wait. The Japanese must have thought I was just another crazed foreigner.  The Japanese seem obsessed with safety, cleanliness and rule-following.  That’s probably one reason they live longer than any other people on the planet. Their average life expectancy is over 83 years.  Ours is only 78.

Egypt was another story.  I spent a few days in Cairo, a ramshackle city of 22,000,0000 people. It’s a fascinating place with thousands of years of history.  The people are friendly, the food delicious and the sites incredible. But safety?  Not a lot of emphasis on that.  For example, there are almost no rules for crossing the street.  I walked all over Cairo, and rarely did I see a crosswalk (and even then, motorists paid no attention to them).  So how do you cross a street in Cairo?  When in Rome, do as the Romans do.  Here is a video I took of my wife, Alejandra, and I braving a stream of Cairene motorists:

scaffold-300x200If you walk into a Syracuse, New York pub on a Friday at 5:20,  and you happen upon a group of personal injury lawyers having an end-of-the-week beer, you might hear them rant about how unfair some New York personal injury laws are.  For example, unlike most States, New York does not allow the immediate family of a wrongful death victim to receive compensation for their grief and heartache at losing their loved one, even if that loved one is a child.  A millionaire drunk driver ran over your thee year old?  Tough luck, mom.  Was he supporting you economically?  Of course not, so you don’t get economic loss recovery.  So what if he was the most important thing to you in the whole world, and your life has been destroyed by losing him.  No compensation for your grief!  You might settle that case for a few thousand dollars, but not the millions it is really worth. Very unfair!

But New York personal injury law has its upside, too.  For example, unlike any other state, New York has something called “the scaffold law”, also known as Labor Law section 240.  That law allows construction workers and others who fall from heights – and  in some cases upon whom objects fall — to get full compensation for their injuries.  This compensation goes far beyond mere workers’ compensation.  The injured fallen worker can sue the general contractor and owner of the construction project for real money, including pain and suffering compensation.  Usually, the case will involve a ladder or scaffold that failed, but can also involve a worker falling because he was not provided with adequate fall protection, such as a harness or barrier.

But here’s the real kicker, and here’s why New York construction accident lawyers like me just love Labor Law section 240:  The injured worker gets fully compensated even if the fall from the height was partially his own fault, as long as Labor Law section 240 was violated.  And Labor Law section 240 is violated almost anytime a construction worker falls from a height, whether because the ladder or scaffold or harness failed, or because such safety devices were not provided, or because proper barriers were not in place.

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Pretty proud of this win in the Appellate Division Third Department.

A very fine Central New York personal injury lawyer hired us to take an appeal from a Labor Law 240 (“scaffold law”) motion he had lost. The case is called Griffin v AVA Realty Ithaca, LLC.

The fact that a great Syracuse personal injury lawyer would choose to have us fight an appeal for him is in itself something we are proud of.  Winning the appeal was of course the icing on the cake.

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Look at this kid! Fernando Vanegas, 19 years old. Same age as my son Sebastian, who just went off to college.  Full of life, of hopes, of dreams, just like Sebastian. Fernando came to Queens, New York from Ecuador only a year ago to reunite with his parents whom he had not seen in 15 years. As an immigrant with almost no English, the best job he could land was in the construction industry. Dangerous work. He would come home at night and tell his parents how frightening his work was; close calls involving retaining walls almost falling on him. Then, last Thursday, he did not come home. A retaining wall collapsed, burying him and two other workers in a heap of cinder blocks. He died.

He should not have died. The warning signs were all there.  The site should have been shut down. Several safety violations had recently been reported, including that the retaining wall was not stable.  The City failed to shut down the work.

Fernando was a canary in a coal mine. Now of course the site is shut down.  Now of course, at least for a while, the City will err on the side of caution, and shut down similar sites.  Shame on his employer, and shame on the City of New York inspectors, for allowing him to die under such conditions, without heeding such obvious warning signs of danger.

craneBack in 2008 a crane collapse in New York City made headline news. The huge tower crane had plummeted from an impressive height in a densely populated area of the city, causing unprecedented human and property destruction.  The case was of special interest to me as a Central New York construction accident lawyer.  We don’t usually have cranes that big up here, but the dangers and risks of construction work are similar.

When something like that happens, you know someone was careless or negligent. A crane does not collapse without a reason. Someone failed to build it right, or to maintain it, or to use it properly. The only real question is who.

Usually in a case like this, several possible culprits point fingers at each other (the manufacturer, the maintenance service company, the operator, etc.). This case was no exception. The owner of the crane pointed toward the crane operator for hoisting a load that “was too heavy”. The operator – who was one of the injured plaintiffs — blamed the crane owner for repairing the crane with a defective bearing he knew or should have known would eventually fail.

Construction is almost the most dangerous job in America, bested only by mining. And like mining, greed often plays a part in accidents. Companies take cost-saving shortcuts at the expense of safety to try to turn a bigger profit.

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Case on point.Last Sunday a 12-ton air handling unit snapped loose from a crane and plummeted 30 stories to the street below in Manhattan. Ten people were injured. Obviously they were using a cable of insufficient strength for the job.

As a recent NYT article points out, this is only the most recent dangerous mishap this year in the New York construction industry. In fact, this year is poised to match 2008 – the year two cranes toppled in New York City claiming 19 lives – as the most deadly construction year in New York history.

Picture of Michael Bersani .jpgCan you sue for compensation beyond your workers’ compensation benefits if you are injured on the job in New York? Maybe. Find out how by watching my new video about New York personal injury lawsuits for on-the-job injuries.

Keep safe!

Mike Bersani

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for scaffold.jpgI read in Syracuse.com yesterday that a 37-year old man, Lateef Haskins, died Friday in a construction accident when he fell from the scaffold he was working from. He was working for a subcontractor on a job renovating the State University College of Oswego.

The article went on to say that Mr. Haskins had shown heroism when, several years ago, he helped rescue a family of four from their house fire. Using a ladder, he had gotten people out of the top floor before the fire department got there. This was not without risk to his own life; flames were shooting out of the roof as he rescued his trapped neighbors.

Mr. Haskins’ family will likely be entitled not only to workers’ compensation benefits, but to much more compensation should they file a claim under New York’s Labor law 240, also known as “The Scaffold Law”. I have blogged about this special Statute often before. Under most circumstances, when a construction worker falls from a scaffold, the general contractor and the owner of the construction project (here, New York State) are automatically liable for all damages suffered by the worker and his family. In this case, that would include all future lost wages and compensation to any children Mr. Haskins’ has for “loss of parental guidance”.

celltower.jpgThis is the second time I have blogged about the dangers cell phone tower climbers face. The media is catching on to my concern. PBS’s “Frontline” just published an article last week titled, “In Race For Better Cell Service, Men Who Climb Towers Pay With Their Lives”. It then aired a film version of the article.

As Frontline points out, the statistics are grim. Between 2003 and 2011, 50 cell phone tower climbers died on the job, almost all by falling to their death. AT&T has the worst record of all, with nearly three times more deaths than its nearest “competitor”.

Why are these workers dying? Frontline found that “in accident after accident, deadly missteps often resulted because climbers were shoddily equipped or received little training before being sent up hundreds of feet” and that, “to satisfy demands from carriers or large contractors, tower hands sometimes worked overnight or in dangerous conditions”. All the cell phone carriers are racing to roll out ever better and faster cell phone networks to deliver ever faster and more voluminous music, games and videos online. To get the jobs done fast, and cheap, safety rules are routinely violated.

Thumbnail image for scaffold.jpgI read in the New York Law Journal today that a coalition of business groups has formed to once again attack Labor Law §240, known as the “Scaffold Law”, and its sister Statute, Labor Law §241. The Scaffold Law has, in my humble opinion as a Central and Syracuse New York construction accident lawyer, saved countless lives in New York by holding employers and owners of construction sites responsible for workers’ falls from scaffolds (among other things). The other Statute, Labor Law §241, provides additional protection, not only from falls, but for many other types of common construction “accidents” (I put “accidents” in quotes because most of them are not true accidents, but rather the result of employers and others encouraging or allowing their workers to cut corners on safety).

The “new” coalition is made up of the usual suspects: The Business Council of the State of New York, the Associated General Contractors of New York State, Unshackle Upstate, and the New York State Builders Association. These guys get together every five years or so to take another whack at our dear Labor Law, so far, thank God, without success! If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try . . .. Well, you know.

According to the article, the new coalition’s leaders believe Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration may be more “business-friendly” than his predecessors’, and that the time is right for delivering a knock-out blow to these safe construction-work statutes. And they may be right! But even if they are “right”, what they are doing is wrong. They are putting profits over safety, and in my book, and I hope in Mr. Cuomo’s, that’s like finger nails on a blackboard.

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