The Power of Third-Party Personal Injury Claims in Construction Accidents
Workers’ comp often doesn’t go far enough
When you’re hurt on the job, you have legal rights. That’s true for any worker, but it’s especially important for construction workers because the risk of severe injuries is so high – and because the stakes for your career are much higher when you don’t work a desk job. If an injury makes you unable to work in construction anymore, you could lose hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in future earnings.
Workers’ compensation provides certain benefits on a no-fault basis: medical expenses, partial replacement of your lost wages, and certain other benefits if your injury is permanent. However, those benefits are often not enough to pay for the full cost of a construction accident. That’s why construction workers can often benefit from filing a third-party personal injury claim.
What is a “third-party” claim?
If a work injury is your direct employer’s fault, the employer is generally protected from civil lawsuits. This is the “grand bargain” at the core of the workers’ comp system: workers get certain benefits on a no-fault basis, and employers get immunity from lawsuits that could result in paying damages in excess of those benefits. However, that immunity only applies to your direct employer (and by extension, other employees of the same direct employer). When a person or company other than your employer – a third party – causes a construction accident, you can file a personal injury claim against them, just as you could in any other scenario.
Third-party personal injury claims are not unique to construction accidents. They can occur in any workplace when a vendor, contractor, equipment manufacturer, or other third party causes an accident. However, they are particularly common in the construction industry because there are many legal entities involved in most construction projects. A third-party claim may involve a property owner, general contractor, subcontractor, architect, engineer, manufacturer or distributor of equipment, or anyone else involved in the project who isn’t your direct employer. Occasionally, the third party may even be someone who wasn’t directly involved in the construction project itself but still caused an injury, such as a motorist who hits a worker at a road work site.
The difference between filing workers’ comp and third-party personal injury claims
In a workers’ comp claim, the relevant legal question is whether you were at work when the injury happened. Fault is irrelevant; if you tripped over your own feet while on the job, that’s still a covered work injury. There are only a few specific exceptions, such as if you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the injury, or if you intentionally injured yourself.
A third-party claim requires proof of negligence on the part of the at-fault person or organization. In general, that means you need to show they owed a duty of care – a legal responsibility to the injured worker – that the duty of care was not met, and that the injury resulted from a breach of the duty of care.
New York law lays out specific standards that establish liability for certain types of construction accidents, usually applying to property owners, general contractors, and in some cases, subcontractors. In particular:
- Labor Law 200 establishes general protections for worker safety and health and holds owners and general contractors liable if they do not “provide reasonable and adequate protection.” Claims under Labor Law 200 may involve unsafe conditions on the construction site, such as improperly secured materials, that were known or should have been known to the construction company.
- Labor Law 240 requires property owners and general contractors to put in place reasonable measures to guard against risks caused by the forces of gravity. Under Labor Law 240, this responsibility always falls on the property owner and general contractor; it cannot be delegated to a subcontractor. This is commonly known as the “scaffold law,” but it applies to all gravity-related incidents, including both falls from height and objects falling on a construction worker.
- Labor Law 241(6) sets safety standards for construction, demolition, and excavation work.
Third-party claims against manufacturers of defective construction equipment fall under premises liability law, which holds manufacturers accountable when their defective products cause injury. Product liability claims may be based on:
- Design defect: the equipment’s design was flawed, and those flaws caused or exacerbated an accident.
- Manufacturing defect: the equipment, while properly designed, was manufactured with shoddy techniques or lower-quality materials, leading to injury.
- Failure to warn: the manufacturer failed to inform the consumer of the risks associated with the equipment, sometimes called a “marketing defect.”
Other types of liability can also come into play in a construction accident, depending on the situation. For instance, a construction worker who is hit by a car can file a claim against the at-fault driver, like any other pedestrian accident victim. A construction worker who is injured in a slip and fall or assaulted due to negligent security can file a claim against the owner or manager of the premises.
Additional compensation is available in a third-party claim
Again, the benefits provided by worker’s comp are limited: all your medical expenses related to the work injury, partial replacement of lost wages, and some other benefits for permanent injuries. A third-party personal injury claim can recover compensation for costs not covered by workers’ comp, including:
- Lost wages and lost future income beyond what workers’ compensation covers.
- Replacement services if the injury has affected your ability to maintain your home or care for your children and you need to hire someone to do work you formerly did yourself.
- Modifications to your home or vehicle to accommodate a permanent injury.
- Pain and suffering, emotional distress, and mental anguish due to the injury.
- Loss of consortium, a legal term for damage to the intimate relationship with your spouse.
- Loss of quality and enjoyment of life, for instance if the injury makes you less able to enjoy activities or alters your lifestyle.
Depending on the circumstances of the accident and the effects the injury has had on your life, a third-party claim can make the difference between tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. The difference is more than just the dollar amount: it’s full and fair compensation to allow you to rebuild your life in the wake of an injury. In addition, pursuing financial damages provides a degree of closure and accountability, helping to prevent future construction accidents and protect other workers.
Click here to download a printable version of the "What's a Third-Party Claim in a New York Construction Accident?" infographic.
An experienced Manhattan construction accident attorney can help you understand all your legal options
Third-party personal injury claims and workers’ comp are not mutually exclusive options; indeed, many construction workers can and should pursue both. An experienced construction accident attorney can talk through your options, including both workers’ comp* and third-party personal injury claims, and help you find the right path forward.
If you were hurt on a construction site in Manhattan or anywhere in the New York City area, it’s in your interest to talk to a lawyer as soon as possible. The construction companies, insurance companies, and other interested parties have their own legal representation, and you need to choose someone to advocate for your rights as well. Give us a call or contact us online today to schedule your free consultation with attorney Pat James Crispi.
*Note that Keogh Crispi, P.C. does not handle workers’ compensation claims; we represent injured construction workers with third-party claims. If you need help with a workers’ compensation matter, we would be happy to refer you to a workers’ compensation attorney to handle that aspect of your case.