Large building projects usually involve scaffolding. The scaffolding exists to keep construction workers safe. However, if workers fail to properly erect the scaffolding or it’s in disrepair, construction workers could suffer severe injuries or even death depending on the nature of the accident and the height from which the worker falls. To get the compensation you deserve, you will want a personal injury lawyer near you who knows the scaffolding accident laws of your state.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), about 2.3 million people work on scaffolding on 65 percent of the construction projects in the country. Each year sees about 4,500 injuries and 60 deaths, costing employers around $90 million in lost workdays. About 72 percent of construction workers that suffered injuries in a construction accident involving scaffolds said that the accidents resulted from supports or planking failing or because construction workers slipped or a falling piece of equipment struck them.
New York’s Scaffolding Law
New York has two sets of scaffolding laws. The state follows OSHA standards for state and local government employees; however, it follows New York Public Employee Safety and Health (PESH) regulations for all other workers. For governmental sites, PESH shows up for surprise scaffolding and site inspections. These constitute mandatory, unannounced inspections.
If a contractor does have violations, the inspector will issue a “Notice of Violation and Order to Comply” if they see anything that violates OSHA standards. The inspector has the power to shut down the site. If a construction company refuses to shut down the site until the inspector returns, the company could face penalties.
Other Individuals Can Also Sustain Injuries in Scaffolding Accidents
While construction workers constitute the most common group of scaffolding accident victims, scaffolding accidents can also seriously injure other people. Pedestrians walking near a construction site, and in some cases, drivers driving by could also suffer injuries in a scaffolding accident.
Should the scaffolding fall or tip, it could hit someone on the ground outside the construction site. Items could also fall and hit someone if the fence around the site sits too close to the scaffolding.
Scaffolding Accidents and Injuries
Scaffolding should remain stationary under significant weight. However, if the scaffolding falls into disrepair, it could cause serious injuries.
Some of the most common reasons for scaffolding injuries include:
- The support gives way from the wall or breaks.
- The planking gives way or slides off the scaffolding.
- Improper assembly.
- Slippery scaffolding surfaces.
- Insufficient planking.
- Unsafe incline.
- No guardrails.
- Workers forget to use safety harnesses.
- Employers do not provide adequate safety harnesses.
- Workers receive inadequate training.
- Objects fall off the scaffolding.
- Scaffolds built too close to utility lines.
- Poor scaffolding construction.
- Negligent workers.
- Negligent employers.
Several factors figure into the severity of injuries sustained in a scaffolding accident.
The height of the structure, whether workers properly erected the scaffolding, the weight of items that fall from the scaffolding, and the size of the structure all contribute to injuries you might sustain in a scaffolding accident.
Injuries could include:
- Cuts, scrapes, scratches, bruises, and bumps.
- Strains and sprains.
- Pulled muscles, torn muscles, and other soft tissue injuries.
- Face and eye injuries.
- Head, neck, and shoulder injuries.
- Traumatic brain injuries.
- Internal injuries.
- Simple and compound fractures.
- Crushed bones.
- Back and spinal cord injuries.
- Electrical, chemical, and/or thermal burns.
- Amputation of a digit or a limb.
In addition to the primary injuries you might sustain, you could also suffer from secondary injuries. The defendant may also bear liability for secondary injuries, which could include infections of open wounds. Those who have a compromised immunity system, have certain illnesses, or take drugs or other treatments face a higher risk of sustaining secondary injuries in open wounds.
Who Can You Sue in a Scaffolding Accident?
Depending on the circumstances, someone other than your employer could share in the liability for a scaffolding accident. New York scaffolding law allows you to sue some third parties in certain situations.
Some of the people or companies that you could sue to recover damages include:
- Contractors and their agents.
- Construction company owners and their agents.
- Scaffolding construction companies.
- Other employees.
- Scaffolding architects (in some cases).
- Third-party companies who erect scaffolding.
Recovering Damages After a Scaffolding Accident
The type of injuries you receive in a scaffolding accident dictate how much compensation you could recover after a scaffolding accident. You could recover compensatory damages, including economic damages and non-economic damages. Courts award economic damages to cover expenses that you or an insurance company pays out of pocket. These damages have an obvious monetary value. Non-economic damages cover your intangible losses and do not have an easily discernible monetary value.
Economic damages include:
- Medical expenses, including those from the time of the accident until you settle or win a trial award, and those you might incur after you complete your case. Medical expenses include the cost of surgeries, doctors’ appointments, physical therapy, occupational therapy, cognitive therapy, psychological therapies, ambulatory aids, hand controls for your vehicle, prescriptions, and updates to your home, including wheelchair ramps and grab bars.
- Wages: In addition to the lost wages you could collect from the time of the accident until you settle or win a trial award, you could also recover compensation for loss of earning capacity if your doctors expect your injuries to lead to long-term or permanent disabilities.
- Personal property: Any personal property that suffered damage in the incident, including your vehicle if something falls off scaffolding and damages it, cell phones, and other property of value in your vehicle or on your person that suffered damage in the incident.
- End-of-life expenses: If you lost a loved one in a scaffolding accident, you could recover burial expenses, funeral expenses, cremation expenses, and other end-of-life expenses, such as probate court filing fees.
Non-economic damages include:
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress. If you lost a loved one in a scaffolding accident, you could also recover compensation for emotional distress.
- Loss of quality of life if you have to change your lifestyle, for example, by taking prescription medications or using ambulatory aids for the rest of your life.
- Loss of companionship if you can no longer enjoy family outings, activities, and events.
- Loss of consortium if you can no longer have a physical relationship with your spouse. If you lost a loved one in a scaffolding accident, you could also recover compensation for loss of consortium.
- Loss of use of a body part, such as a hand or a leg.
- Loss of use of a bodily function, such as your eyesight or bladder.
- Amputation of a digit or limb.
- Excessive scarring and/or disfigurement.
- Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do the chores you usually do, such as house cleaning, home maintenance and repair, grocery shopping, and lawn maintenance.
In some cases, you could also recover punitive damages. Unlike compensatory damages, which the court orders the defendant to pay in an attempt to make you whole again, the court orders the defendant to pay punitive damages as a punishment for grossly negligent or intentional actions or inactions that caused your injuries.
When you recover damages, you normally settle with or sue the contractor’s insurance company. Should the insurance company contact you after an accident, refer it to your scaffolding accident lawyer. Insurance companies do not like to pay claims since every claim decreases the companies’ profits. The insurance company will attempt to get you to talk about the accident; you could inadvertently say something that the insurance company can use against you. To ensure you receive maximum compensation in your scaffolding accident claim, refer the insurance company to your attorney regardless of how much it pushes you to discuss the accident or dissuades you from retaining an attorney.
How to Prevent Scaffolding Accidents
In most cases, scaffolding accidents do not have to happen. These accidents almost always result from someone’s negligence. Construction site supervisors and employees should know and obey all safety regulations when working on and around scaffolding.
Some ways to prevent scaffolding accidents include:
- Ensuring that all workers have the appropriate training for erecting scaffolding.
- If using a third party to erect scaffolding, ensure that the company uses only experienced workers.
- Ensuring that all workers use the proper fall protection and safety gear.
- Ensuring that all fall protection and safety gear remain in good working order.
- Knowing and following OSHA’s construction standards for scaffolding.
- Replacing worn or broken planks and other scaffolding materials.
- Inspecting the scaffolding for defects daily.
- Ensuring that all materials and tools used to lift construction materials, including slings and cranes, remain in good working order.
- Ensure that all levels of the scaffold have safe access.
- Not overloading planking. The planks must support their own weight, plus four times the weight of anything or anyone on the scaffolding.
- Do not leave debris, tools, buckets, or anything else on the scaffolding, as this constitutes a trip hazard.
- Keeping scaffolds at least 10 feet from power lines.
- Use nonslip treads on steps leading to the main deck.
- Use canopies and safety netting to protect those who fall and those walking by the construction site.
If someone on your worksite failed to do any of those tasks, and you got hurt, call a construction accident lawyer today.
Why Scaffolding Accidents Often Prove Fatal
In many cases, scaffolding may extend several stories high. Not many people could survive a fall from three or more stories up. Even if the construction company uses netting below the scaffolding, someone who falls could sustain severe injuries.
If something should fall from the scaffolding, even something as light as a hammer, the distance it falls could cause death if the item hits you directly on the head. Other materials, including the scaffolding itself, can reach significant weights—heavy enough to cause catastrophic injuries or kill you in the event of an accident.
If you notice defective scaffolding or safety violations, let your supervisor know. If they do not correct the defect, you can refuse to work. Contractors, supervisors, and others in positions of power could face fines and legal action if they threaten your job because you refuse to work on or with dangerous equipment.
How to Stay Safe When Working Around Scaffolding
When working around scaffolding, you should:
- Always make sure you have a properly fitting hard hat, and always wear it.
- Never take shortcuts when setting up scaffolding.
- Inspect the scaffolding immediately after erecting it.
- Inspect the scaffolding every morning.
- Do not use scaffolding covered in snow or ice.
- Make sure scaffolding has dried completely after it rains.
- Clean up spills and make sure the area remains dry.
- Do not use freestanding ladders on scaffolding.
- Do not stand on boxes or other items while on the scaffolding.
- Always use designated methods of access to the scaffolding.
- Do not climb on scaffolding supports.
- If you notice safety violations, get off the scaffolding and alert your supervisor.
- Always look before you step when on scaffolding.
In short, if you pass by scaffolding on your daily commute, stay as far away from the actual construction site as possible. Unexpected mechanical errors and even employee errors could cause injuries or death, even outside the construction site barriers.
Preventing Injuries to Non-Construction Pedestrians
Construction companies must close sidewalks and block streets that sit too close to scaffolding. When walking near a construction site surrounded by a closed street but open sidewalk, do not walk near the construction site barriers. While the barriers should stay far enough away from the site to keep you safe, this doesn’t always happen, especially when the scaffolding extends particularly high, or when cranes lift materials onto the scaffolding.
In these situations, walk across the street or take another route. If driving by a construction site, try to take another road if possible. If a crane or another lift system topples from the scaffolding, it could tip into the open lane, depending on the equipment’s height.
If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one because of a scaffolding accident, contact a construction accident attorney as soon as possible for a free case evaluation.