Articles Posted in Construction Accidents

I blogged just the other day about the Syracuse construction workers, employed by Apple Roofing, who were injured when a scaffold collapsed, bringing them down with it, at Binghamton University dormitory under construction. I talked about how New York’s special “Scaffold Law” (Labor Law 240) makes the Owner of the construction site (New York State and perhaps the New York Dormitory Authority) and the general contractor (LeChase Construction)on the job automatically liable for the fall and injuries.

Here I want to talk about how a smart New York construction accident lawyer would handle this case. He or she would get this case to a judge ASAP to rule that the Scaffold Law applies, and that the defendants are therefore automatically liable for the injuries! (You can do this through a procedure known as a “summary judgment motion”). Why the rush? Because once you establish, under New York law, that these guys are liable, 9% annual interest starts running on the money the injured construction workers are owed for their injuries. Now that’s a lot of interest in today’s weak economy. Try getting that on Wall Street today!

After “liability” is established on “summary judgment”, which is a no-brainer in this case, and interest starts running, getting the case to a jury on the remaining issues of medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering compensation, will take some time. In fact, you have to wait to see how well the injured worker heals before you even know how much to ask a jury for. But now at least you have interest running. The money is in the bank, and is cooking up 9% interest a year!

Scaffolding has only one purpose: To hold workers up safely while they work. And when it doesn’t do that, very bad things happen. I’m talking big injuries, or even death. That’s why, for generations, New York State has recognized the importance of having an iron-tight law to protect construction workers from the severe injuries, or death, caused by falls from scaffolds.

The Binghamton New York scaffold collapse, which injured six construction workers yesterday, is a prime example of how important New York’s “scaffold law” (Labor Law 240) is. The scaffolding had been erected at Binghamton University on the side of a dormitory under construction. It had not been up even 24 hours when it collapsed, taking six construction workers down with it. I can guaranty you that workers’ compensation will never be enough to fully compensate these injured construction workers. That’s why Labor Law 240, the “Scaffold Law”, is so handy for New York construction and scaffolding accident lawyers like me. This Statute makes it easy to get full and fair compensation for the victims of collapsing scaffolds.

The “Scaffold Law” says that the owner and general contractor (and sometimes others) of the construction project are AUTOMATICALLY liable (New York scaffold lawyers say “strictly liable”) to injured construction workers who fall from scaffolds. If the scaffold failed to do its job of holding the workers up safely, then they are liable, period. No excuses. No stories. No shifting the blame to others. (Well, there are a few exceptions, but I can’t see any that would be applicable on the facts of this case).

Construction season is in high gear again, and that, of course, means more construction accidents. Yesterday the Syracuse Post Standard reported that a construction worker fell into a 12-foot hole, which was to be the foundation for a new single-family home, on a construction site job on Seymour Street. The worker apparently suffered some kind of head injury.

I wish this worker a speedy recovery. But when I read cases like this one, and after I feel sorry for the victim, I can’t help but “think like a lawyer”. As a Syracuse New York construction lawyer, I see this accident as proof of why, many dozens of years ago, New York State’s wise legislature passed a law known as Labor Law section 240. This statute may help this unfortunate worker today to get the financial compensation he may need.

Under Labor Law 240 a construction worker who falls from a height, including from ground level into a hole, generally has a New York personal injury claim against the owner of the property, the general contractor, and perhaps others as well, for failure to, among other things, cover or guard the hole to prevent the fall. The worker does not even have to prove that anyone was “at fault” or careless or negligent. The only thing he has to prove, generally, is that he fell because a “safety device” (such as a barricade or other means of preventing the fall) was not provided. Even if the worker himself was largely to blame for his own fall, he still wins his New York construction accident lawsuit if the proper safety devices were not provided or failed. The law was designed to give extra protection to construction workers who risk their life and health everyday by working from heights or in areas where they can fall and be seriously injured or killed.

I was pleased to read in the Geneva Finger Lakes Times today that a regional representative of OSHA (federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration), Jennifer Lawless, speaking at Geneva’s Ramada Inn, announced that, under the Obama administration, OSHA is stepping up compliance enforcement in the Syracuse and Central New York area, especially at outdoor work sites, such as construction sites.

We at Michaels Bersani Kalabanka have consistently, year after year, brought Syracuse area construction accident lawsuits where compliance with OSHA and other safety regulations would have prevented devastating fall-related injuries. We know firsthand that Construction employers in Central New York often ignore OSHA and other safety regulations.

The OSHA regulations, if followed, would help prevent many of the devastating injuries, and deaths, that result from workers falling off ladders, scaffolds, buildings, roofs and other structures. For example, just this week, OSHA fined a construction company $539,000 for a roofer’s 40-foot fall to his death at a Washington, Pennsylvania construction site. According to OSHA’s website, the construction company “failed to provide any fall protection to its employees working on a pitched roof 40 feet off the ground”. A spokesman from OSHA said the employer “knowingly and willfully failed to protect his workers from falling to their death” and that OSHA “will not tolerate this type of blatant and egregious disregard for the health and safety of workers.” The very same day, OSHA fined a Pittsburgh construction company $70,000 for failing to provide fall protection to a construction worker who fell 225 feet to his death on a construction site. The same company had already been fined in 2007 for the same violations, but apparently did not “learn its lesson”.

The Geneva Finger Lakes Times reports today that a construction worker fell 12 feet through an unfinished stairway of a house under construction in Yates County, New York yesterday, and landed on the gravel basement floor below. The worker, of Geneva, was brought by Mercy Flight to Strong Memorial Hospital with head and internal injuries.

We wish the best for the injured worker and his family. Twelve feet does not sound like a lot, but I know from representing construction workers in similar falls that, when you are caught off-guard by it, a 12-foot fall is huge.

In these blogs, I try to apply New York Accident law to facts gleamed from local news reports. The question I want to address here is, does the injured worker have a New York construction injury case? The answer is: It depends.

From our perspective as lawyers representing Central New York’s injured construction workers in lawsuits against employers and construction site owners, it seems that there are a whole lot of OSHA scaffold, ladder and height-work violations in Syracuse and the surrounding areas. Every year without fail we file new lawsuits on behalf of injured construction workers who were caused to fall from scaffolds or ladders by safety violations. But apparently there may be more OSHA violations going on than even we could have imagined. A significant number of “hidden” accidents are never reported! Let me explain.

A little over a month ago, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the auditing agency for Congress, reported that employers and workers routinely underreport work-related injuries and illnesses to OSHA. This means that the number of OSHA violations causing injuries is actually higher than OSHA reports.

Why are so many EMPLOYERS failing to report workplace accidents? The GAO believes it is because they fear workers’ compensation premium increases and scaring off prospective and lucrative clients from contracting with them.

The U.S. Department of Occupational Safety and Health Administration, commonly known as “OSHA”, has released its “Top 10 Most Frequently Cited” violations for 2009. This list not only exposes the most frequently violated safety regulations in 2009, but also, in my experience, represents a pretty accurate list of the top 10 violations that, year after year, cause the most serious injuries in the workplace in New York. Here’s OSHA’s top ten list (with my editorial notes tagged on):


Note: The NUMBER ONE safety violation. Scaffold accidents are frequently caused when the planks or support boards collapse or slip off the scaffold frame, or when the scaffold worker slips and falls from the scaffold or is struck by a falling object that causes him to fall off the scaffold. In a previous blog post, I wrote about how injured New York scaffold workers benefit from a special Statute, Labor Law 240, which allows them to sue for compensation for such scaffold violations. We have represented many construction workers in scaffold accident cases.

New York’s Labor Law section 240 is a special New York statute aimed at compensating construction workers, and their families, who are injured or killed when they fall or when objects fall on them during construction work (and in some other circumstances as well). This law allows all New York workers, which obviously includes our local construction workers in Syracuse and in the surrounding central New York area, to sue for their lost wages, medical expenses, pain and suffering, and wrongful death, where the construction site did not provide required protection from workers falling or from objects falling on workers.

In what is perhaps a watershed case, New York’s highest Court, the New York State Court of Appeals, has ruled that this statute protects construction workers not only when they “fall” and when something “falls” on them, but also in other circumstances where the “effects of gravity” injure or kill a construction worker, and a safety device could have been used to prevent the injury.

In Runner v. New York Stock Exchange, the injured worker was seriously and permanently maimed in both of his hands when he and some co-workers attempted to move an 800-pound reel of wire down a set of about four stairs. To prevent the reel from rolling out-of-control down the stairs, the workers had tied a rope to the reel and then held onto the rope as the reel descended the stairs. This method proved disastrous; as the reel descended, it pulled the worker toward a metal bar to which one end of the rope was tied. The injured worker’s hands were severely injured as they jammed against the metal bar. Experts testified at trial that a pulley or hoist could have been used to safely roll the reel down the stairs. The jury found against the injured worker, but his construction accident lawyer appealed to the Court of Appeals, which found that this was the wrong result. Even though nothing fell on the worker, and he did not “fall” from a height, his injuries were caused by a violation of Labor Law section 240 because that statute is meant to protect workers against the effects of gravity generally on a construction site, not just “falls”.

Several injured construction workers have walked into my office this year in Auburn, Cayuga County, New York, as they do every year, with a typical central New York construction-site injury story that goes something like this: “Mr. Bersani, I fell from a ladder and suffered bad injuries while I was working on a construction project. I guess I didn’t set the ladder up right, because when I got halfway up, it just slid out from under me and down I came. Can you help me?” Sometimes it’s a fall from a ladder, sometimes a fall from a scaffold, sometimes they were just fixing a leak in a roof, and sometimes they were involved in a full construction project. But one thing almost all these clients have in common: They have a nearly perfect case.

Why? After all, didn’t that guy just say he set the ladder up wrong? Wasn’t it his fault? How is that a perfect case?

Well, to understand why, you have to understand New York’s Labor Law 240. (I am going to simplify it for the purpose of this blog – it’s really more complicated. Call me and I’ll be glad to explain in detail).

In a recent post, I wrote about a multi-million dollar settlement Michaels Bersani Kalabanka recently achieved for a Syracuse area victim of occupational lung disease. I attached to that post a video-clip about one of the most common types of occupational lung disease, silicosis, an incurable, potentially deadly, and progressive disease. Silicosis is caused by the inhalation of silica, which is found naturally in sand and many rocks, and which, when blasted or sanded, becomes airborne. Silicosis and other work-related lung diseases are all too common in Syracuse, Auburn, Buffalo and other aging industrial cities.

Today the Clarion Ledger (a Mississippi Newspaper) reports that a victim of silicosis was awarded 7.6 million dollars in the first silicosis case to go to a jury in Mississippi. The injured worker developed silicosis from 25 years of sandblasting without proper protection from the dangerous dust that engulfed him on a daily basis.

So what did the defendant, Mississippi Valley Silica Co., do wrong? Apparently just about everything. The jury heard substantial proof that the company knew that the abrasive-blasting of sand without proper protection was likely to cause silicosis. They knew, or should have known, that proper protection would not have been complicated or costly. Yet they did nothing or next to nothing about it.

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