According to the United States Department of Labor, OSHA reported there were 4,188 on-the-job fatalities in 2011. A surprising 738 of these deaths occurred in construction accidents. Injuries and fatalities are so prevalent on construction sites that OSHA has given a name to the four leading causes for construction worker deaths: The Fatal Four. Falls, electrocutions, objects striking workers, and workers caught between or in dangerous spaces account for over 50 percent of the workplace fatalities on construction sites.
These statistics are indicative of what those in the construction industry have known for years: Construction is dangerous business. This isn't news to you if you own a construction site. You may have already, unfortunately, experienced this danger on your property. If you haven't, consider yourself lucky. But also consider that your luck may run out and there may be a construction accident on your property.
Construction site owners should understand who can be sued if a construction accident occurs on their property; however, I must first acknowledge a legal truth: Construction accidents can be quite complicated. In each state, there are three different comparative fault models when the court decides on the levels of negligence in a personal injury lawsuit by involved parties:
•Pure contributory negligence -- injured party must be found completely not at fault to recover damages
•Pure comparative fault -- injured party can recover damages if the defendants are found to be up to 99 percent at fault, with award reduced by the level of fault placed on injured party
•Modified comparative fault -- two methods
1.Injured party cannot collect on damages if level of fault is 50 percent or more; if less than 49 percent, awarded damages reduced by the level of fault placed on injured party
2.Injured party cannot collect on damages if the level of fault is 51 percent or more; if 50 percent or less, awarded damages reduced by the level of fault placed
New York is one of the thirteen states that use the pure comparative fault system, where injured parties are not prevented from recovering any damages, even if they are found to be mostly at fault, but not 100 percent responsible. Because of this, even if the injured party is at 99 percent fault for the construction accident, he or she can still collect a damage award from those found to be 1 percent liable.
As the construction site owner, your liability in a construction accident is dependent on several factors, including but not limited to:
•The amount of control you exercise over the work process. Some site owners' hand over complete control of the work process to a contractor, who in turn manages everything that happens on the property, including the availability of safety gear and the hiring of experienced employees who will use the equipment properly. In these cases, the owners are typically not found liable for accidents. Other site owners maintain some amount of control over the work process and are then responsible for the implementation of all safety measures on the construction site because they are essentially controlling employers.
•Your adherence to New York Labor Laws in: providing a safe workplace during construction, regulating the unique dangers of the construction industry, and violating the New York Industrial Code. If it can be proven that you, as the owner of the property, broke any of these codes, the level of the injured party's fault is irrelevant and you can be found liable.
•Whether or not there are safety hazards or harmful conditions on the land itself, which you knew about or should have known about. If a construction accident results from your negligence in removing or informing employees of known or suspected safety hazards from the land itself, you can be found liable.
•If the construction accident was caused by manufacturers defects of the machinery or equipment. If the manufacturer has placed a defective product on your property, or failed to provide the proper maintenance of the machinery, the manufacturer can be found liable for any resulting construction accidents. If a third party such as a manufacturer is found liable for damages, you may also be able to recover for any damages that occurred to your property in these cases.
•Whether the injured party is deemed 100 percent responsible for the accident. If the injured party is found to have been completely responsible for the construction accident, then no other entity shares fault and no damages will be awarded.
Because of the various nuances in the laws surrounding determining fault and awarding damages in construction accident cases, you should contact a construction accident lawyer if there is a construction accident on your property.