Construction workers typically cannot sue their employers if they are injured on the job. But you can sue outside your chain of employment.
New York has a special law which holds property owners responsible for work accidents involving scaffolding, ladders and heights. Depending on the circumstances, equipment manufacturers or contractors on the same work site may also be subject to personal injury lawsuits.
What is third party liability?
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system. If you are injured on the job, even through your own carelessness or clumsiness, your employer covers your medicals and lost wages. The flip side is that you cannot bring a personal injury lawsuit against your employer, even if your injuries were caused by a co-worker’s negligence or unsafe working conditions.
There are two exceptions in which you can bring a personal injury claim for a workplace accident:
Labor Law 240 – Section 240 of the New York State labor code makes property owners strictly liable for construction injuries involving scaffolds, ladders and other work at elevation, such as roofing. It is not necessary to prove negligence; the proprietor is presumed liable for work performed on their property.
Third Party Liability – You have the right to sue parties who are not directly in your chain of employment:
- Property owners/property managers
- Utility companies
- Material suppliers
- Subcontractors (heavy equipment, electrical, pipefitters, etc.)
- Manufacturers of machinery, tools or safety equipment
- Drivers who crash into your work vehicle
In a product liability claim, the injured party has the burden of proving that the machine or equipment was unsafe as designed or did not properly warn of the dangers. In other third-party claims, you have to establish negligence or reckless disregard for safety.
Many parties may share blame for Miami bridge collapse
Take, for example, the recent bridge collapse at Florida International University. At least one wrongful death lawsuit has already been filed. But one of the people killed and two of the injured were construction workers employed by VSL Structural Technologies, which supplies and installs concrete bridge supports.
Under workers’ compensation law, those employees and the family of the construction worker who died are likely barred from suing VSL … even if the investigation finds their employer was negligent. However, those victims may have grounds to sue the general contractor of the project, the architecture/engineering firm, or other suppliers or contractors.
This analysis is purely speculative. The investigation into the FIU bridge collapse is ongoing. Officials have not assigned blame to VSL or any entity involved in the bridge project.
Think beyond worker's comp
Our point is that construction workers and their families must understand their legal rights when tragedy strikes. You are not necessarily restricted to workers’ compensation or workers’ comp death benefits. An attorney experienced in construction accidents can identify and pursue any viable third-party claims.