- Construction site accidents are a common occurrence at job sites around the country, due to the dangerous nature and physicality of construction. Although safety is often touted as a number one priority, often the reality is deadlines and budget constraints lead way to negligence which can cause injuries.
- There are numerous causes of construction site injuries and, sadly, many of them are so common that simple well-known preventative measures could have easily been utilized to prevent the construction site accident.
When a construction site injury occurs, liability may fall to construction site workers, managers, or companies, the property owners, or even manufacturers of faulty equipment which led to the construction site accident.
- Talking to a construction site injury lawyer after an accident protects your rights and helps to keep your options open. Often after an accident, constructions companies will want to continue wth the project, so valuable evidence relative to the accident may be lost or destroyed.
If You’ve Been Injured on a Construction site, We Can Help!
Construction injuries in Missouri occur from a variety of unsafe, and, sometimes, even intentional incidents that occur on a jobsite. Due to the nature of construction work, these injuries can often be catastrophic, including dismemberment, permanent injury, and, sometimes, even death resulting from falls, electrocutions, improper use of tools or machinery, injuries sustained from a coworker, or being struck by construction material or machinery, to list only a few. Unfortunately, litigation stemming from construction injuries can be complicated due to the complex nature between the employee, the general contractor, the owner of the construction site, the developer, architect, engineer, insurance companies, and more.
The Thompson Law Offices specialize in helping people who have been injured on construction sites pursue the compensation they need and deserve.
Workers Compensation in Missouri
Employers in Missouri that are involved in the construction industry are required to hold workers’ compensation insurance and pay workers’ compensation benefits for injuries that arise from the workplace, regardless of the size of the company. This legislative mandate reflects an understanding that working on construction is an inherently more dangerous activity than almost any other job. Workers’ compensation benefits will provide financial recovery for injuries stemming either from a single event, or injuries that accrue over time from repeated exposures or incidents.
Very importantly, in general, Missouri law mandates that workers’ compensation is the “exclusive remedy” against an employer for an employee’s injuries or a death that occurs during employment, including for all construction injuries. This means that, unless an exception applies, an injured construction worker’s only means of recovering for an injury at work is through a workers’ compensation claim. The worker cannot sue his employer through any other cause of action, subject to a few exceptions discussed later.
Workers’ compensation benefits are therefore a dual-edged sword for injured construction workers. Importantly, workers’ compensation is a “no fault” system. This means that an injured construction worker can obtain a recovery regardless of the fault of anyone involved, even if the injury the construction worker suffered was entirely that workers’ fault. All the construction worker must do is simply prove that the injury occurred at work, and does not fall into a number of exceptions that infrequently apply. For example, if a construction worker breaks his thumb by accidentally swinging a hammer into it, that worker can recover under workers’ compensation laws (so long as he did not intentionally swing the hammer intending to break his thumb), even though the accident was, likely, entirely his fault. These benefits would be paid out from the employer’s worker compensation insurance policy. On the flip side, however, if a construction worker was killed because his employer failed to follow the safety instructions for a large tool being operated on the construction site, the deceased’s employee’s family’s only remedy is to sue for workers’ compensation recovery.
Report the Injury Immediately
Regardless of the manner or cause of the injury, it is extremely important that a construction worker who has been injured on the job site immediately take several steps, if possible. First, many employment agreements, and state law, require that the employee report the injury or suspected injury as soon as reasonably possible after the injury has occurred. Failure to report the injury might result in a loss of recovery under a workers’ compensation claim, because the workers’ compensation insurance company might suggest that the injury was not actually suffered at the jobsite, or was so minor that it did not initially warrant even a reporting of injury. Second, it’s extremely important, both for the worker’s health and for future benefits, to seek medical attention from a medical professional. Medical attention will provide a stronger case for a potential workers’ compensation recovery by documenting injuries, however many construction workers fail to have their injures properly and timely diagnosed by a medical professional.
Is Worker’s Compensation looking out for your best interests?
Because workers’ compensation is, at its heart, an insurance policy, the benefits, limits, and conditions of the policy are negotiated between the company and its insurance provider well in advance of the actual occurrence of an injury. This means that workers’ compensation benefits usually allow for only an extremely low financial recovery, as many companies will attempt to obtain the absolute cheapest insurance provided, so long as they are still in compliance with Missouri law. Moreover, most companies employ the services of an attorney or HR personnel who negotiate workers’ compensation recoveries on behalf of injured employees, mostly with the goal of minimizing the amount of money a company must pay out. Generally, these benefits will only include medical care for the injury, and possibly limited disability benefits for time lost at work. The benefits do not include things such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and often will pay only a small fraction of the employee’s normal salary for a limited time, even if the injury prevents the employee from being able to work ever again.
These benefits are therefore in stark contrast to the damages recoverable in so-called negligence actions, which can include pain and suffering, emotional distress, and a conceivably unlimited amount of financial compensation for lost wages, loss of consortium, and similar issues. By way of example, if a construction worker is struck by another car, whose driver was texting while driving, while the construction worker is commuting to the job site from his home, that worker might have a strong claim for negligence against the at-fault driver. This action would be a “normal” personal injury case, because it occurred outside of the context of work and the jobsite. The construction worker might therefore recover for the wages he lost by being unable to work, for hospital bills incurred in recovery, for pain and suffering and other emotional distress, and for the damage done to his vehicle.
In contrast, if the construction worker is struck by a car, though this time being driven on the jobsite while the construction worker was at work (again while the driver of the at-fault car was texting), the construction worker’s sole remedy is to apply for workers’ compensation coverage. This coverage may or may not include coverage for pain and suffering, loss of consortium, emotional stress, or any other damages, again depending on the exact contours of the policy. Thus where and in what manner the injury occurred can have a huge impact on the manner of compensation obtainable.
Worker’s Compentation isn’t the only recourse
There are, however, other means by which an injured employee can recover for damages, and important exceptions to the workers’ compensation law in Missouri. One such avenue is known as a “third party action.” For example, consider a construction worker who is injured by falling off a roof while working for a roofing company hired by the owner of a building. The worker may recover under the roofing company’s workers’ compensation policy as explained previously, regardless of who is at fault for the fall. However, the worker might also have an action against the owner of the building, claiming so-called “ordinary” negligence: that is, the owner failed to maintain a safe work site for the construction worker. As suggested above, the worker cannot sue his employer (the roofing company) because of the “exclusive remedy” nature of workers’ compensation (though, as noted, would also not be required to prove any fault on behalf of the employer), but he may be able to sue the owner under this different legal cause of action.
These types of claims can quickly become very complex for both the employee, and the owner (or anyone else implicated in the alleged negligence). Under the negligence cause of action alluded to above, the employee must show all of the normal elements of negligence to prevail on this claim: that the owner, for example, had a duty to protect against the sort of injuries incurred by the worker, that the owner breached this duty, that the breach of this duty was the cause of the employee’s injuries, and that the employee suffered actual injuries and damages. Therefore, and unlike workers’ compensation claims, the employee must be able to show that someone, such as the owner of the property, was at fault and that this fault caused the injuries of the employee. This is a much more fact-intensive (and potentially costly) inquiry into the accident than that required to simply recover for a workers’ compensation action, but could also result in significantly heightened financial recovery. Importantly, fault must shown which means that, in the example discussed above of the employee hitting his own thumb, that employee would almost certainly be unable to recover on a third party action (even if there was, somehow, a third party involved) because he would be unable to show the fault of anyone but himself for his injuries.
In a third party action, the owner of the property might carry insurance to cover the damages alleged by the worker, and the owner might seek to indemnify (that is, shift the financial burden of the damages) to the worker’s employer, such as, in the example before, the roofing company, dependent on the owner’s insurance policy and relationship with the roofing company. As noted, because these sorts of actions are not barred by workers’ compensation laws, the worker can recover much more than he might ordinarily be able to, including lost wages, lost earning potential, pain and suffering, and much more, however that worker may still be forced to deal with an insurance company for obtaining a full recovery, except in the context of a negligence action instead of a workers’ compensation action. Most such claims are settled out of court between the employer, the third party, the insurance company, and the employee, and often require the zealous advocacy of an attorney skilled at bringing third party claims to obtain maximum success.
Exceptions to Worker’s Compensation
In addition to the third party action discussed above, there are notable exceptions to Missouri’s workers’ compensation law. For example, a worker can sue his employer for intentional acts—that is, if the employer or another worker intentionally injured the worker. A worker can sue his employer if the employer does not have workers’ compensation insurance coverage whatsoever, opening up the employer both to a normal negligence action by the employee, and to possibly substantial fines levied by Missouri. Numerous other, similar, exceptions may apply, but are generally factually specific to what occurred at the construction site.
One very important exception to workers’ compensation coverage is in the case of a defective product. Quite frequently, construction workers may apportion blame for their injuries on an employer or another construction worker when, in fact, a defective tool may be to blame for the injury. This action, know in Missouri as a “strict product liability” action, is particularly powerful and sometimes overlooked by injured construction workers. In a strict liability action, the injured construction worker must show that the tool, for example, was either defectively designed (a so-called “design defect”), was manufactured in an inappropriate way (a “manufacturing defect”) or lacked appropriate warnings or instructions regarding its safe use. Again, unlike a negligence action, so long as the injured construction worker can show that the tool was in some way defective, a full recover can be obtained. And unlike in a workers’ compensation claim, a strict product liability action can result in recoveries ranging from lost wages, to pain and suffering, loss of consortium, emotional damages, and much more.
Talk to a Construction Injury Attorney Right Away
As suggested, workers’ compensation claims for construction injuries in Missouri can be extremely complicated. Even further complications exist if the construction worker was an independent contractor instead of a full-time employee. An experienced personal injury or construction law attorney is essential in navigating the complex interplay between employees, owners, builders, insurance companies, and the many other parties at play in these cases.
Finally, it is important to consider that, even though workers’ compensation claims may, on their face, bar other forms of remedies for injured construction workers, many workers may have additional remedies, in the form of exceptions to this law or third party actions, that can significantly increase recoveries. Construction workers will likely be forced to communicate with an attorney retained by their employer, who will advocate the employer’s interests exclusively, creating a very uneven playing field for the employee, unless he decides to hire an attorney of his own.
Ready to take the first step? Please contact Thompson Law Office right now to request a free consultation from one of our experienced construction injury attorneys.