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.
There may be a problem with this particular construction accident case, though. It involves the construction of a single-family home. Labor Law 240 generally exempts from liability owners of one or two-family homes, as long as they are really going to use the home as a home and not for commercial purposes.
Also, the construction worker cannot sue his own employer because the Workers’ Compensation Law bars him from doing that. But if the general contractor was some other company different from his own employer, then he can bring a Labor Law 240 claim against the general contractor.
Why would this worker want to bring a New York personal injury claim at all? Won’t workers’ compensation cover all his injuries? No. Workers’ Compensation will pay him for only 60% of his lost wages, as well as all his medical bills, but that’s all. If he’s out of work for a long while, what does he do about that 40% reduction in pay? How will he pay his bills? Unless he brings a construction accident claim against someone, such as the general contractor under Labor Law 240, then he just has to “suck it up”. But if he brings his Syracuse construction accident case and wins, the liability insurance will end up paying not only ALL his wages, but will also compensate him for his pain and suffering.