Construction sites always pose a risk of injury to those working in them. When a scaffold structure is poorly designed, built, or maintained, tragedies can happen. Many times, scaffolding accidents result in severe injuries because of the heights involved. Worse, the surfaces below scaffolds are often hard, littered or both. Construction workers place themselves at risk every time they show up for work, but anyone can be injured due to construction site negligence.
Whether a construction worker or a pedestrian victim, knowing what to do in the event of a scaffolding accident can help towards a quick recovery and claiming compensation for injuries.
Scaffolding Injuries and Dangers
The most common scaffolding dangers include:
Specifically, falls from heights that could have been prevented by fall arrest systems or guard rails. Other types of falling cases can include workers falling onto other workers or from unsteady or falling ladders. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a federal organization that enforces safety regulations and studies national worker deaths, reported that 36% of construction worker fatalities are caused by falls.
Serious injuries often caused by falls from heights include but are not limited to:
- Bone fractures
- Skull fractures
- Nerve Damage
- Spinal fracture
- Cardiac or aortic rupture
- Pelvis fracture
Many scaffolding collapses can be prevented with adequate inspections and weight restriction compliance. Failure to enforce these safety protocols constitutes negligence. Using faulty materials to construct scaffolding is also a form of negligence. OSHA studies reveal that nearly one-third of NY State construction safety violations were for violations of the scaffolding injury prevention standards.
Scaffolding negligence can have severe consequences for pedestrians and bystanders. Recently, one person was killed and two others suffered serious injuries in New York City when platform cables snapped and scaffolding collapsed.
The New York City Department of Buildings requires that netting be installed on scaffolds to protect pedestrians and workers from falling debris. Falling objects and debris accidents frequently involve:
- Dropped equipment and tools
- Roof or ceiling collapse
- Falling concrete, beams, or other construction materials
- Objects falling through holes in construction site floors
- Objects falling through open elevator shafts
Examples of negligence that can lead to falling objects and debris include:
- Improperly trained workers
- Failure to follow safety standards
- Failure to follow safety precautions or use devices that protect against falling objects and debris.
The most common scaffold-related injuries include:
- Broken bones
- Organ damage
- Amputation, in severe cases
- Spinal cord injury
- Traumatic brain injury
New York Labor Laws and Safety Regulations Regarding Scaffolding
Fortunately, New York construction workers have greater legal protection than workers in most other states.
In addition to OSHA regulations, the state of New York provides special protection to construction workers injured while involved in the demolition, repair, or construction of commercial buildings. The following outlines specific sections of laws that protect construction workers.
Examples of Requirements from OSHA Scaffolding Checklist
- Scaffolds must undergo proper inspection and re-inspection at specified intervals
- Employees must be instructed about the hazards of using certain braces as fall protection
- Scaffolds must be at least 10 feet from electric power lines at all times
- Proper training is required for all personnel who will be working around or on a scaffold
- Unstable objects, such as barrels, boxes, loose bricks or concrete blocks must not be used to support scaffolds or planks
- Scaffolds have to be equipped with guardrails, mid rails and toeboards
More details from OSHA about scaffolding can be found here on the OSHA website.
New York Labor Law 200
Also known as Common Law Negligence, this section of state law mandates that construction company owners and contractors exercise “reasonable precautions” to foster a safe work environment. This means that all equipment, machinery, and other devices must be “operated and guarded in a safe manner” allowing reasonable protection for construction workers. This law also provides protection for visitors to the job site, requiring things such as hard hats, adequate lighting, and guardrails.
Other duties contractors and property owns are responsible for are:
- Clearing debris or tripping hazards from sidewalks
- Covering walkways
- Rerouting pedestrians away from where falling objects may occur
- Repairing loose brick or stonework on a building
New York Labor Law 240
Called the Scaffolding Law, section 240 specifically protects the rights of workers injured in a fall or due to a falling object striking them. In this case, “construction” is defined as “the erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building.” A building can include structures such as boats, bridges, garages, subway tunnels and water towers.
This law imposes strict liability against the owner of the property and any of their agents. All contractors, construction companies, and property owners must provide and enforce the use of proper protection equipment. Examples of protection equipment include:
Further, Section 240 also mandates that:
- Scaffolding more than 20 feet from the ground or floor shall have a safety rail properly secured
- All scaffolding must be capable of bearing its own weight and at least four times the intended load, without failure
The Scaffold Law and Absolute Liability
New York State is the only state to impose an absolute liability standard on gravity-related construction accidents. This means that property owners and managers can be held fully responsible for any gravity-related injury, even if the worker failed to use the provided safety equipment. They are responsible for enforcing the safety regulations, not just providing protective gear.
Scaffolding Accidents: Filing a Personal Injury Claim Does Not Affect Workers’ Compensation
Workers injured on the job are often hesitant to pursue legal action because they fear they would then be ineligible for workers compensation. Simply put, this is not true.
Receiving one type of financial compensation does not affect eligibility for other types. Worker’s compensation is designed to compensate for immediate economic damage and missed wages. Personal injury claims can recover additional damages aside from medical bills.
You can collect workers compensation while still filing a personal injury claim. However, the process is challenging and often aggressively contested, which is why it is in the best interest of the victim (or surviving loved ones) to hire a lawyer.
Note that a worker’s compensation claim has its own timeline different from a personal injury claim. Deadlines have shorter windows with specific requirements that need to be paid close attention to. More details and a clear guide to worker’s compensation can be found here.
Pedestrian Injury Lawsuits Involving Scaffolding Accidents
It’s clear that construction workers have various legal protections on the job. Pedestrian victims have other legal options for filing a personal injury claim after a scaffold accident. Pedestrians or bystanders have the right to file lawsuits against a number of parties including general contractors, sub-contractors, building owners, managing agents, the company that provided the scaffold equipment, and construction companies.
Victims can seek compensation for damages including, but not limited to:
- Medical expenses
- Lost income and benefits
- Cost of rehabilitative treatment
- Permanent injuries
- Mobility equipment
- Diminished earning capacity
- Non-economic damages such as pain and suffering
Individuals who have lost a loved one in these types of accidents may be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit against at-fault parties as well.
Awards and settlements for scaffolding accident lawsuits vary based on each situation. With legitimate cases, it is not unusual to see settlements and verdicts in the range of several million dollars.
For example, a New York resident recently fell 30 feet onto a concrete floor while replacing the roof of a commercial building. He suffered severe leg fractures, requiring a double amputation below the knees. The employer and property owner failed to provide employees with safety harnesses or netting to protect them in a fall. He accepted a $9.5 million settlement.
Contact Sobo & Sobo For Help After Scaffolding Injuries
When construction sites are not properly secured, workers and pedestrians can end up suffering serious, even fatal injuries. Any construction worker or bystander injured by a scaffolding accident should seek legal advice to understand legal options like workers’ compensation, Scaffold Law injury claims and wrongful death actions.
If you or someone you know has been injured as a result of a scaffolding accident, the attorneys at Sobo and Sobo can make a big difference in recovering compensation. Our attorneys have decades of experiencing fighting for and achieving maximum compensation for construction site injury victims across New York City. We have offices conveniently located in Middletown, Newburgh, Monticello, Spring Valley, Poughkeepsie and New York City. Call Sobo & Sobo today at 855-468-7626 or contact online to start fighting for your rights.