Construction workers who help build and expand our communities face some of the greatest risks for injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. Whether it’s a residential, commercial, or publically funded or subsidized infrastructure project, worksites are often filled with various hazards, heavy machinery, and different tradesmen, laborers, and contractors whose ability to collaborate effectively is vital to keeping workers free from harm.
Unfortunately, even the most safety conscientious workers can suffer injuries in places as dangerous as construction worksites, which is why there are systems in place that enable injured workers, and in some cases their families, to obtain needed benefits and compensation to treat their injuries and make ends meet while they recover. Navigating the pathways to compensation, however, is no easy task – as construction workers may have more options than going through their employer’s workers’ compensation, and always have the need to ensure they’re in the best position possible to recover what they need.
Personal Injury Lawsuit or Workers’ Comp?
Most people are aware of both personal injury lawsuits and workers’ compensation, which work similarly in terms of providing needed benefits, but differ drastically in the types of benefits provided and how they are obtained. As a law firm that focuses our practice on personal injury law, Rouda Feder Tietjen & McGuinn fields many questions from potential clients about what rights they have, and whether they can pursue a personal injury lawsuit rather than a workers’ comp claim.
The answer to that question, as with many questions involving the law, is: it depends. The unique facts of your particular case will ultimately dictate which pathway to compensation you may take. For example:
- If you were injured in a construction accident as a bystander, perhaps as a pedestrian or bicyclist who was struck by a falling object dropped by a worker while passing near or through a construction site, any legal action you pursue will likely be a civil lawsuit, or more specifically a “tort.” That means you’ll be filing a personal injury suit against the at-fault party you claim should be held liable for your damages.
- If you are a construction worker injured during the course of performing job related duties, the situation is more complex. In many cases, injured employees go through workers’ comp, which are cases our firm does not handle. But in some workplace accident cases, there may be the opportunity to file a third party construction accident lawsuits (a type of personal injury suit), which are cases our firm has a proven record in winning.
Since injured construction workers may have options, it’s important to understand how workers’ compensation and personal injury lawsuits differ:
- Workers’ Compensation – Workers’ comp is a form of insurance most employers are required to carry by law. As a form of “no-fault” insurance, workers’ compensation provides benefits to employees who suffer job-related injuries or illnesses that prevent them from working, no matter who is at fault for the accident, in exchange for workers relinquishing their right to sue their employer. Benefits provided by workers’ comp depend on the nature of your injury, such as whether it results in partial / total or temporary / permanent disability, and are generally limited to medical benefits (usually through an approved provider), wage supplementation (up to a certain percent of your typical income), and things like vocational rehabilitation.
- Personal Injury – Personal injury lawsuits are civil claims, and unlike workers’ comp, they allege someone is at-fault for causing preventable injuries, and that the at-fault party should be held financially liable for the resulting damages they incurred. Though personal injury cases vary in the specific laws that apply, they generally require victims to prove another’s negligence caused them harm and losses, which can be quite a complex endeavor. However, when successful, personal injury lawsuits can provide victims with a more robust financial recovery than what’s typically available through workers’ compensation. That includes economic damages related to medical bills, future medical expenses, lost income, lost future earnings, and more. It also includes non-economic damages (less tangible things like pain and suffering, mental anguish, and other emotional injuries), which are not available in workers’ comp cases.
When You Might Have a Personal Injury Case: Third Party Liability
If you’re a worker who has been injured in a construction accident, you may have the right to pursue a recovery of your damages through a personal injury lawsuit rather than a workers’ comp claim if certain circumstances apply. Usually, this means a third party that is NOT your employer caused your injuries.
Here are a few examples of construction accidents which may give rise to third party liability:
- Negligent contractors – Construction sites often have a number of contractors and subcontractors, as well as various skilled tradesmen and laborers. If one of these contractors causes your injuries as result of negligence, you may have the right to pursue a personal injury lawsuit. That’s because they’re not your employer, and are considered a third party.
- Defective products – Construction workers use all types of tools, equipment, and machinery, and they need those products to function properly in order to complete their work safely. If a construction accident stems from a defectively designed, manufactured, or marketed product, workers injured as a result may have the right to pursue a third party claim against the product manufacturer. Those manufacturers (and in some cases distributors or retailers) are obligated under product liability laws to ensure the safety of the products they make.
- Negligent property owners – You may have a potential third party claim if your construction accident resulted from the negligence of a property owner. Under premises liability law, property owners have a legal duty to address potential hazards they knew or should have known about. If a property owner knew about a broken staircase on their premises, for example, but did nothing to fix it, they may be held liable for resulting injuries.
- Chemical exposure – Some construction workers are exposed to dangerous substances and chemicals in the course of performing their work, such as asbestos or lead, which may increase their risks of suffering injuries or illnesses. In cases where workers suffer immediate injuries as a result of chemical exposure, or latent illnesses that manifest years after initial exposure, they may have the ability to seek compensation outside of workers’ comp through cases known as toxic torts. These claims are usually made against the manufacturers of a harmful substance, products which contain harmful substances, or certain parties that failed to protect workers from known exposure risks.
- Auto accidents – Construction workers who are injured in auto accidents may also have the right to seek compensation through personal injury lawsuits rather than workers’ comp claims. These cases may involve truck or commercial vehicle accidents involving a negligent contractor, a regular motorist who negligently struck a construction worker near or in a worksite, and other similar situations.
Have a Potential Personal Injury Case? Call (415) 940-7176
Given the many different types of construction accidents and various laws, it can be difficult to determine when you may have a potential third party personal injury case. If you believe your construction accident was caused by the negligence of a third party, our personal injury attorneys at Rouda Feder Tietjen & McGuinn can help you take a closer look at the circumstances involved, discuss whether you may have a viable personal injury lawsuit, and explain what we can do to guide you through the civil lawsuit process. Call (415) 940-7176 or contact us online to request a free consultation.