Working in construction is one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States.
To help construction workers, New York laws require safe working conditions at construction sites. These laws allow construction workers to recover for their injuries and loss resulting from unsafe working conditions.
What types of unsafe working conditions can injure construction workers?
New York construction worker safety laws protect construction workers from unsafe conditions and accidents, including:
- Falls from ladders, scaffolds, and other elevated height working platforms
- Falling objects
- Trucks and construction vehicle back overs and accidents
- Moving buckets and hoists swinging into the work area
- Unsecured construction materials
- Tripping and slipping hazards in passageways and work areas
- Trench collapse and cave in
- Crane collapses
- Unsafe tools and machinery
What is New York’s Falling Worker and Object Law — Labor Law § 240(1)?
Over one hundred years ago, workers were dying at an alarming rate falling off New York City buildings under construction. No meaningful safety laws protected them.
To stop the deaths, New York State in 1885 passed “the Scaffolding Law.” It protected construction workers doing their job at elevated heights. It required that building owners and general contractors provide adequate safety devices to prevent injury and death from falls on construction projects.
That law has made construction sites safer for workers for over one hundred and thirty years. Now known as Labor Law § 240(1), it continues to protect New York construction workers from many elevation related risks, not just those needing scaffolds. Construction workers need this law now more than ever. In 2018, falls from elevated heights, and falling objects, remained the two leading causes of death in the construction industry. (See https://www.osha.gov/data/commonstatshttps://www.osha.gov/data/commonstats.)
How does Labor Law §240(1) protect construction workers?
The law applies to construction workers employed on construction, demolition, painting, alterations, construction related cleaning, repair, and non-routine maintenance at a work site. The owner and general contractor must “furnish or erect” safety devices that will protect construction workers against the risk of falling, or from overhead equipment or materials falling on such workers. These safety devices must also be properly placed at the construction site.
These safety devices include:
- Scissor lifts
- Safety harnesses, lanyards, and anchor points
- Safety nets
- Movable working platforms
- Safety railings
- Bucket trucks
Falling overhead objects are another safety hazard. Owners and contractors must guard against this hazard with safety devices, including:
- Secured materials hoists
- Overhead planking and barricades
- Tool lanyards
- Catch platforms
- Debris nets and screens
Contractor or owners cannot violate their duty to provide safety devices to construction workers for these fall related risks. What happens if they do — and that violation hurts a construction worker? The owner and general contractor may be absolutely liable for such injuries under Labor Law §240(1).
Can an injured construction worker recover under Labor Law §240(1) if he was partially at fault?
Yes. Labor Law §240(1) is an absolute liability law. Once we establish that the general contractor or owner violated this law, and that this violation caused injuries, the construction worker can recover for such injuries, damages, and loss. This is true even if the construction worker was partially at fault.
The reason for this is simple. The owner and the general contractor respectively own and control the work site. This puts them in the best position to provide workers with a safe place to work. The law therefore places this responsibility on them. So they cannot point the finger at the construction worker. The law recognizes that the construction worker does not control the worksite, or own it, and often works for a sub-contractor.
Are there defenses to a Labor Law §240(1) legal claim?
Yes. If the construction worker was the sole cause of the injury, then he or she cannot recover. This is a high bar. The owner or general contractor must prove that the injury occurred 100% because of a construction worker’s acts or omissions at the construction site – and for no other reason. They must prove that they provided all necessary safety devices, that they properly erected and furnished them, and that the construction worker still suffered injury.
Usually, when this defense succeeds, it is because a construction worker does something reckless, or is intentionally unsafe in an otherwise safe workplace.
A close cousin to the “sole proximate cause” defense is the “recalcitrant worker“ defense. The owner and the general contractor claim that they furnished, erected, and placed an adequate safety device to the construction worker. They claim that they instructed the worker to use that safety device. The worker refused, and disobeyed the instruction. The worker then suffers injury because of this. In such cases, there is no Labor Law §240(1) case. The worker had the right safety devices, was instructed to use them, and chose to not to do so.
In our experience, few cases meet these criteria. Most construction workers are safety conscious. They want to work hard, do their job well – and safely – and go home to their families.
More often, a contractor or owner may claim that a partially at fault worker was the “sole” reason for the worker’s injury. Or, that this partial fault proves a “recalcitrant worker.” As stated above, however, a construction worker’s partial fault is not a defense to a Labor Law § 240(1) action. At the Law Offices of Patrick J. Higgins, PLLC, we spend much of our time in these cases beating back these defenses to bring a construction worker’s case to an early and successful conclusion.
New York’s Labor Law §241(6) – Providing Further Protection for Construction Workers
Unsafe work conditions can exist anywhere on a construction site. New York law §241(6) requires that all areas of construction, excavation and demolition be constructed, operated, arranged, and guarded to protect construction workers. New York safety regulations give effect to this law. (See 12 NYCRR § 23-1.1–11.5 at https://labor.ny.gov/workerprotection/safetyhealth/sh23.shtm.) These regulations cover many unsafe conditions at a construction site, not just falls from elevated heights or falling objects.
The safety regulations supporting Labor Law § 241(6) are specific. A contractor or owner may violate these regulations, causing injury to a construction worker. If this happens, Labor Law § 241(6) makes the contractor and owner absolutely liable for the construction worker’s injuries.
What regulations support a Labor Law 241(6) legal claim?
Here are some safety regulations that support a Labor Law § 241(6) legal claim:
- Eye Protection Requirements –(12 NYCRR § 23-1.8(a));
- Covers and Safety railings over Hazardous Openings – (12 NYCRR § 23-1.7(b)(1));
- Safe Runways and ramp requirements for work areas (12 NYCRR § 23-1.22(b));
- Protection against slipping hazards (12 NYCRR § 23-1.7(d));
- Protection from tripping and other hazards in passageways and work areas (12 NYCRR § 23-1.7(e)(1);
- Guarding of power driven saws and machinery (12 NYCRR § 23-1.12(c)(1));
- Protection from Electrical Hazards (12 NYCRR § 23-1.13);
- Protection in Welding and Flame Cutting Protections (12 NYCRR § 23-1.25(e)(3);
- Protection against power shovels and backhoes swinging or carrying suspended loads in construction work areas (12 NYCRR § 23-9.4(h)(5)).
What is the New York “safe place to work” law?
Labor Law § 200(1) is New York’s “safe place to work” law. (See https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/LAB/200). It requires that owners and contractors provide reasonable protection to construction workers and others lawfully at the site.
There are two types of legal claims arising under Labor Law § 200(1) – liability for unsafe conditions at a worksite, and liability for unsafe work methods.
The owners and contractors must correct any unsafe condition that they created, or knew about at the worksite. They also must inspect the worksite to discover unsafe work conditions and correct any that could have been discovered through such inspections.
If the owner or contractor knew about an unsafe work condition, and did nothing about it, they can be held liable when that unsafe work condition injures a construction worker. A contractor must control the area of the worksite where the unsafe condition existed.
A contractor and owner can also be held liable when unsafe work methods injure a construction worker. The contractor and owner must have had the actual control necessary to stop that method of unsafe work, and did nothing.
Can I recover in a legal claim for a worksite injury if I am receiving Workers Compensation benefits for that injury?
Yes you can. You are an employed worker injured on the job. Workers Compensation pays for 2/3 of your average weekly wages, and your injury related medical expenses. (See WCL §§ 12, 13, 14). This does not prevent you from bringing a legal claim under New York construction worksite safety laws, and recovering your full range of damages. The Workers Compensation carrier will have a lien, or the right to recover approximately two thirds of the costs of the medical and wage benefits paid to you, from your recovery in your legal claim. (see WCL § 29).
What damages and losses can I recover for a construction worksite injury under New York safety laws protecting injured construction workers?
You are entitled to recover what you have lost, and will lose. You must first prove that the contractor or owner violated New York safety laws for construction worker injury and that this caused your injury. Then, you may receive compensation for past and future:
- Lost wages
- Lost union benefits
- Lost health insurance, pension, 401K, and vacation benefits
- Loss of ability to perform services and jobs around the house such as maintenance and repair, snow removal, and lawn care
- Physical and emotional pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life – being able to do the things that you enjoyed doing before the injury
- Your spouse’s losses and damages caused by the injury – called a spousal derivative claim in New York
- Permanent or partial work disability
- Medical costs including the need for assistive devices
- Prescription drugs and medicine
- Physical and occupational therapy
- Modifications to the home
- Psychological and mental health counseling to deal with effects of the injury
Injuries from unsafe construction worksites include:
- Brain injuries
- Traumatic Brain Injury (“TBI”)
- Skull fractures
- Crushing and impact injuries to the head, neck and shoulders
- Compression and burst fractures to the spine
- Heel, ankle, and lower leg bone fractures
- Penetrating and impaling injuries (often from rebar or the like)
- Torn and ripped muscles, tendons, ligaments
- Knee, leg, and arm fractures
- Crushed ribs and flail chest
- Polytrauma (multiple trauma) corresponding to the side of the body impacting a hard surface such as a concrete or dirt floor
- Internal crush, penetrating and blunt force trauma injuries
- Eye injuries
These injuries, as indicated, often devastate the construction worker. But they equally devastate family members, particularly a spouse. Like a dropped stone in a pond, the ripples move outward. So, we work with the medical and economic experts. We carefully identify and present all harms and losses. We visit family members, co-workers, friends and relatives. They teach us what the injuries mean at a personal level. Often these people best convey the harm and loss.
How much time do I have to bring a Legal Claim under Labor Law §§ 240(1), 241(6) and 200(1) under the “Statute of Limitations?”
A “statute of limitations” mean the time a person has to bring a claim against another person or company under New York State law to recover for injuries, damage, or loss.
As an injured construction work bringing a legal claim against a New York contractor or owner under the above law, typically you will have three years from the date of that injury to bring a legal claim against these entities.
However, depending on the facts, other time limits may apply. For example, if a municipality or New York State owns the property where you suffered injury, or acted as a contractor on the worksite, there are 90-day notice of claim requirements and shorter times to bring a case against these entities. (See for example Gen Mun. Law §§ 50-e (1), 50-(i)). https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/GMU/50-E; https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/GMU/50-I.) There are also public authorities that have specific statutes of limitations and pleading requirements.
If an injured construction worker dies from a construction injury, then the statute of limitations for a wrongful death action is two years from the date of death in typical circumstances. (See https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/EPT/5-4.1).
Courts rigidly enforce these statute of limitations.1 Therefore, it is in your best interest to check with an experienced attorney in this area on the statute of limitations applying to your case. If you do not file a legal claim before the statute of limitations expires, the statute of limitations will forever bar your legal claim. Remember that attorneys need time to investigate and work up legal claims. So do not delay in contacting an experienced attorney about your legal claim. Many will not accept a case that is close to the statute of limitations expiring.
How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer?
Patrick J. Higgins believes that your financial situation should never keep you from getting justice. We established our law firm with that principle in mind.
At The Law Offices of Patrick J. Higgins, PLLC, we represent construction worksite injury clients on a contingency fee basis.
This means we don’t receive a fee unless we get you money. If we do succeed in getting you compensation, our fee will only be a percentage of your total recovery, plus reimbursement for actual costs that we have advanced for you. If for some reason we do not succeed, you will not have to pay us one penny. We take the risk of loss so you don’t.
We also advance the costs of investigation and litigation in most cases. And, your initial consultation is always free.
In other words, hiring an Albany construction worksite injury lawyer from our firm won’t cost you anything up front or out of pocket. There’s nothing to lose.
Benefits of Hiring Patrick J. Higgins to Handle Your Construction Worksite Injury Claim
Patrick J. Higgins founded our law firm after spending over thirty years trying cases and representing injured clients. He opened his law firm with a different business model: The Law Offices of Patrick J. Higgins, PLLC takes fewer cases and spends more time on each of those cases. We position each case for optimal success to the best of our ability. We get to know each client individually.
When you hire The Law Offices of Patrick J. Higgins, PLLC, you will work directly with Mr. Higgins. He has a capable staff that will assist him, but you will deal with him one on one. He will respond to your emails in a timely manner. He will answer your phone calls. He will come to your house if you would like, meeting with you where you are comfortable. He will get to know you and your case on a personal level.
We offer deep legal experience, personal attention and individual passion that might not be possible in larger law firm settings.
When you hire Patrick J. Higgins, you are putting 34 years of legal experience and a proven track record on your side.
Free Consultation with Patrick J. Higgins, Experienced Construction Worksite Injury Lawyer
If you or someone you love has been injured or killed in an Albany construction worksite injury, you may be entitled to significant financial compensation under New York personal injury law.
Mr. Higgins first worked on a construction worksite injury case in 1982, when he was a law clerk. He has been working on these cases ever since then. The details of the particular construction worksite, and how each injury occurred, are critical to understand. So is the underlying jargon and construction practices and the reality of the construction worksite. The facts drive most behavior and practices at a construction worksite. They explain much about why safety conscious workers suffer preventable injuries.
If you suffered injuries and damages from a construction worksite unsafe condition or work method, you can schedule a free legal consultation with Patrick J. Higgins directly. There is no cost, because we do not charge for initial consultations. It is your chance to discuss your situation confidentially with an experienced professional.
To get started, call 518-489-1098 and ask for a consultation. Our phone lines are open 24/7 seven days a week. You can also contact us directly online.
1 This is general information only and does not constitute the providing of legal advice. Each case differs. You must consult an attorney as to your individual case.