Articles Posted in Construction Accidents

I read in 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”.

This 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.

I 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.

This story just kills me. The Syracuse Post Standard reports that a construction worker repairing the roof of Tully High School fell from the roof this morning while members of the high school’s girls cross-country team stood by and witnessed it. I feel terrible for the injured worker, but also for those poor kids who witnessed the tragedy.

And it was an avoidable tragedy. The law was not followed. I’ll tell you more about that later, but first let me say that, in my experience as a Syracuse construction work accident lawyer, most fallen roofer injuries are serious, and life-long. Because the injuries from falls are so serious, New York has a special law to protect construction workers on rooftops and scaffolds. It’s called Labor Law 240, or “the scaffold law”.

Tully School District will almost certainly be held liable to the fallen roof-repair man. Why? Because under New York Labor Law 240, the owner of a building is, in almost all circumstances, strictly liable for all worker falls from the building’s roof. The roof repair man should have been tied up with a lanyard or some other safety device, and apparently he was not. This is, generally, a clear cut violation of Labor Law 240.

When I was a college student, I used to paint houses in the summer to make a few bucks. I was fearless then. I would climb way up high on extension ladders and paint the peaks of three-story homes. And I would climb on roofs, lie down and dangle my head over the edge, and paint the eeves. Nothing was holding me to the roof except gravity and guts. I was in my 20’s and I did not think I could ever die, or even get injured. And work was plentiful. Homeowners readily hired me because I had a reputation for doing a good job on the cheap.

Now, much older, wiser, and having represented too many fallen workers in my job as a Central New York and Syracuse construction accident lawyer, I dare not climb a ladder even to clean my own gutters. Being a Central New York construction accident lawyer has its downside – I have lost my nerve. I take six steps up the ladder, my mind’s eye sees three or four clients who fell when the ladder they were on toppled, or when they lost their grip, I then think of how my family will fare without a breadwinner, and before you know it, I have backed my way down the ladder to the safety of mother earth.

My house needs painting. Even though I have painted over 50 houses in the day, I am not going to paint mine. I would much rather represent fallen workers than be one.

Take a drive around Central New York in this nice springtime weather and you’ll probably see workers up on ladders and roofs, repairing roofs, gutters or doing other types of construction work. But you probably don’t look at construction work the same way I do. As a Syracuse New York construction accident lawyer, I see laws being broken! The workers are not breaking the law, but the contractors who hire them and the owners of the buildings they are working on are.

Under New York’s Labor Law and Federal law (OSHA), construction workers working from heights are required to be tied up with a full-body harness attached to a shock-absorbing lanyard or a retractable lifeline. A lanyard or lifeline stops the worker from hitting the ground – instead his fall is arrested on the way down. And because lanyards and lifelines are made to absorb shock, the gravitational forces on the body are minimized. The full-body harness then distributes the remaining gravitational forces of the fall throughout the entire body so as minimize the risk of strain or injury to any part of the body.

The contractor and owner of the building are also supposed to ensure that the ladders workers use to get up to the heights they are working from are tied down, both at the bottom and the top.

A web article I stumbled upon jumped off my computer screen at me today. It was titled “Plaintiffs lawyers eyeing Marcellus Shale Work.” My first thought: “Gee, I am a New York personal injury lawyer located right in the Marcellus Shale zone, so how come I am not ‘eyeing’ the future Marcellus Shall Work”. Next thought: “Hey, that hydrofracking work will be dangerous, workers will get hurt, they will need New York personal injury lawyers to represent them, so gosh, maybe I should be ‘eyeing’ the Marcellus shale work”. Next thought: “Don’t want people getting hurt, and besides, it’s going to be messy for our environment up here, so thanks but no thanks”.

All those thoughts streamed through my brain in about 3 seconds, before I even got to the first word of the article. Then I read it. A personal injury lawyer out of Pennsylvania somewhere was quoted as saying that the Marcellus Shale drilling would cause “horrendous injuries” because of all the gas and liquid under high pressure carried through pipelines, stored in big tanks, and ejected underground at high pressure. Drill rigs are notoriously dangerous. Toxic gas leaks burn workers and gas rigs explode. Big tanker trucks cause motor vehicle accidents on narrow local roadways.

OMG! Parade of horribles. Well, he convinced me: the Shale gas drilling, or “hydrofracking” as it’s called, if it ever happens up here, will be good for the personal injury law business. Unfortunately, it probably will, if it goes forward, produce a fair number of serious injuries and deaths. And I am sure that many of the injured and the families of the dead will find their way to our law office since we are well regarded in the personal injury field and, I believe, the only law firm located in our area of the Finger Lakes that limits its practices almost exclusively to New York personal injury cases.

These winter days of snow-caked rooftops, there are lots of folks are up on roofs with chisels, hammers and shovels trying to dislodge ice and clear off snow. And for a good reason; all that snow and ice buildup can damage the roof, and can even cause the roof to collapse! That’s pretty dangerous, but being up there on the snow-and-ice capped roof, if you don’t know what you are doing, isn’t so safe either. Quick advice from this Central and Syracuse New York personal injury lawyer: Don’t do it yourself unless you know what you are doing. Hire a contractor or roofer instead.

But wait a minute. If you do hire someone to do it for you, and he falls off your roof and is injured or dies, can he, or his family, sue you?

Before I tell you the answer, let me give you some law. New York has a special law, called New York Labor Law 240, which provides that workers may bring a lawsuit against the “owner” of a building (among others) if the workers fall and are injured while engaged in either “cleaning” or “repair” work (among other things). Clearing snow and ice off a roof has been held to be a “cleaning” activity, and of course fixing a leak is a “repair” activity, so if someone falls from your roof while doing either of those things, you, the homeowner, would, at first glance, seem to be liable for the injuries sustained by the fallen worker.

My last blog was about ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution), such as mediation and arbitration, which is, to a certain extent, replacing jury trials as a way to resolve personal injury lawsuits in Syracuse, Central New York, and, in fact, just about everywhere else. Here’s a recent example of how ADR works from my own case load.

I am scheduled to try a Syracuse fall-from-scaffold lawsuit in about 3 weeks. Meanwhile, the defendant’s insurance carrier has invited me to try to settle the case through “mediation” first. After I explained how this works, my client agreed to it, and we will be at the mediation table in about a week. If we don’t settle at the mediation, I will have only a few weeks to prepare my trial, which is not enough time. I really need 6 weeks! So I am already preparing my exhibits, my direct examinations, my cross-examinations, etc., in case I need to try this Syracuse construction accident lawsuit.

The case may or may not settle at mediation. Much of that depends on how reasonable the insurance carrier will be. If the case settles in mediation, I won’t feel bad about having spent so much time preparing for trial. I always learn by preparing for trial. It makes me a better lawyer.

My hometown newspaper, the Geneva Finger Lakes Times, reports today that a Florida man working for a subcontractor on the Wal-Mart “Super Center” expansion in the Town of Geneva, New York, fell from a scaffold, suffered shoulder and wrist injuries, and was then Merrcy Flight-flown to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. The worker had been working at the ceiling level when he and the scaffold both fell over. OSHA is investigating.

No matter what OSHA decides, though, I can tell you with almost absolute certainty, from my years of handling New York falling scaffold injury cases, that the injured worker has a “slam dunk” New York worksite accident case against the owner of the building where he fell, Wal-Mart, as well as against whoever the general contractor on the job was. This is because of a special New York law, called the “scaffold law” (Labor Law 240[1]), specifically designed to help victims of unsecure scaffolds and ladders get full compensation for their injuries from both the owner of the building and the general contractor on the job. You can read my prior posts on this topic by clicking here and here.

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