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Know Your Rights After a Fall on an NYC Construction Site

Injured workers have recourse under New York law

The construction industry has more on-the-job fatalities than any other industry in New York City, and one of the deadliest types of construction accidents is falling from height. Construction workers in New York are often many stories above ground, so fall protection is critical. When safety precautions aren’t taken, workers’ lives can be changed forever.

That’s why New York law sets strict standards for fall protection and safety on construction sites. Injured workers have rights, and accountability is needed to protect them.

The high cost of a fall from height

Falls from height are one of the “fatal four” types of construction accidents identified by OSHA, and for good reason. The higher the fall, the greater the chance of death – falls from over 30 feet are usually fatal – but even a shorter fall can be deadly if the worker lands on the wrong body part or the wrong surface. In part, that’s because injuries sustained in falls from height tend to affect the entire body, including vital organs, whereas other types of accidents may only injure one part of the body.

Non-fatal injuries sustained in falls from height often include spinal, head, and neck injuries, which can have a huge impact on the worker’s ability to work and their quality of life. Injuries to the lower extremities, such as broken ankles and ACL tears, are also common. A worker who survives a fall may have limited mobility while the injuries heal – or permanently. Surgery may be needed to repair damaged joints. Long recovery times and physical therapy follow. The injured worker’s ability to work may be compromised.

The long-term cost of a single fall can be staggering, especially if the worker sustains a permanent brain or spinal cord injury. Long-term care may be needed, plus replacement of a lifetime of income. Even more “minor” injuries can have a major impact, though. That’s why fall prevention needs to be a top priority on construction sites, especially in Manhattan and throughout the five boroughs of NYC where construction sites may be many stories above ground.

Preventing falls and protecting workers

Fundamentally, there are two elements of fall protection on construction sites. The first is technical in nature: having the right tools and machinery in place to shield and protect workers. Building appropriate scaffolding, placing ladders on secure and stable surfaces, and using protective gear such as harnesses are all examples of technical fall prevention.

The second piece is human support: comprehensive training, instruction, guidance, communication, and supervision to prevent falls from occurring. Again, in New York, communication is especially critical when construction sites span multiple floors and workers may not be able to see each other while the job is ongoing. Having the right tools and gear means nothing if those tools are not used in a safe and organized manner.

Unfortunately, for too many construction workers, that’s exactly what happens. Their employers cut corners on safety, and the worker pays the price. That’s why New York law establishes specific protections for construction workers.

Legal protections for New York construction workers

New York Labor Law 240 is commonly called the “Scaffold Law,” but it can apply to all types of falls from height – ladders, roofs, even elevator shafts – not just those involving scaffolding. Under Labor Law 240, construction site owners and contractors are required to take reasonable safety measures to protect workers at height. Some of those safety measures may include:

  • Scaffolding
  • Hoists
  • Ladders
  • Slings
  • Hangers
  • Pulleys
  • Ropes
  • Stays

Labor Law 240 also requires that scaffolding or staging 20 feet above ground must have safety rails that meet certain criteria.

Notably, Labor Law 240 establishes absolute, non-delegable liability on the general contractor and the property owner. (There is an exception for owners of one- or two-family dwellings who do not direct or control the work.) In other words, in New York, the general contractor and property owner are directly responsible for fall protection; they cannot delegate that responsibility to a subcontractor.

Depending on the nature of the incident, there may be other laws that come into play, such as Labor Law 200 and Labor Law 241. In addition to the property owner and general contractor, parties that might be liable for a fall from height include:

  • Subcontractors
  • Architects and engineers
  • Manufacturers of defective equipment

Pursuing accountability for a fall from height is key, not only to help the injured worker recover, but also to prevent future incidents from happening. An experienced Manhattan construction accident attorney can work to build a strong case for an injured worker.

Understanding legal options after a fall on a construction site

Like all workers in New York, construction workers who are hurt on the job can pursue workers’ compensation benefits. However, the compensation provided by workers’ comp is limited: medical expenses, plus a portion of lost wages while unable to work, and certain other benefits for permanent injuries. Falls from height often inflict damage that is not covered by workers’ comp, such as pain and suffering and loss of quality and enjoyment of life. The way to get compensation for those losses is through the civil justice system.

Injured workers can’t sue their direct employers for on-the-job injuries, but they can sue other parties that are responsible for their injuries. On a construction site, there are usually multiple companies involved, so this is often an option for the injured worker. However, those companies also have insurance companies and highly paid defense attorneys looking out for their interests. Holding them accountable requires strong legal representation.

An experienced construction accident lawyer can investigate the circumstances that led to a fall from height, determine which New York laws were violated, and hold the responsible companies accountable. Just as importantly, a lawyer can advocate for the full compensation you deserve for the long-term cost of an injury – costs that, in a fall from a significant height, can be substantial.

If you were injured in a fall from height in New York, the lawyer you choose can make all the difference in the outcome of your case. The key is to act as soon as possible before important evidence disappears and legal deadlines expire. Contact us today to schedule your free, confidential consultation with Keogh Crispi, P.C.

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