Articles Posted in Work Accidents

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A fatal construction accident has spurred a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the worker’s widow against the property owner and two subcontractors in California. construction accident

The incident highlights the fact that not only is construction work extremely dangerous, but that workers and their families may have options in addition to workers’ compensation to pursue damages. Although this case is unfolding on the opposite side of the country, California and Florida have similar laws pertaining to the exclusive remedy of workers’ compensation. In Florida, workers’ compensation law is outlined in Chapter 440 of Florida Statutes.

This is essentially a no-fault system wherein the employee forfeits the common-law right to a negligence action against an employer in exchange for strict liability (i.e., if it happened at work or arose out of a condition of employment, it’s covered) and rapidly-recovered benefits. This is the so-called “exclusive remedy.” You can’t sue your employer if you obtain or are eligible for workers’ compensation. There are some very narrow circumstances wherein an employee could pursue a claim of general liability against an employer for an intentional tort, but that is quite rare. However, what is far more common are claims of third-party liability against someone other than the employer. This is especially common in the trades for two reasons:

  • Injuries are more likely in construction and labor work because of its high potential for risk;
  • There are often numerous companies, individuals, contractors and property owners involved in these jobs.

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In many Florida injury lawsuits, plaintiffs must prove the defendant is negligent. That means proving defendant owed a duty of care to plaintiff, defendant breached that duty, the breach caused plaintiff’s injuries and the injuries are compensable. However, there are some situations in which one need not prove the defendant was negligent. One can assert vicarious liability for the negligent actions of another person. There are several examples, but one of those stems from ownership of a dangerous instrumentality.bobcat

The dangerous instrumentality doctrine is one that stems from common law and it holds that the owner of an inherently dangerous tool is liable for any injuries resulting from the operation of that tool. It’s a form of strict vicarious liability. In Florida, the 1938 state supreme court case of Southern Cotton Oil Co. v. Anderson resulted in the finding that motor vehicles are a type of dangerous instrumentality. That’s why an owner of a motor vehicle in Florida can be held liable for injuries caused by someone else’s negligent operation of said vehicle. The idea is that if you trust someone with a motor vehicle with knowledge and consent, you are responsible if it’s used negligently on a public road.

But there are questions that arise occasionally about what other objects may be considered a dangerous instrumentality. It matters a great deal when we’re considering which persons or entities can be liable. One such case recently before Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeal was that of Newton v. Caterpillar et al, stemming from a work injury.  Continue reading →

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Injuries and deaths that occur in the course and scope of a victims’ employment are generally compensable under state workers’ compensation laws. These laws have provision of “exclusive remedy,” which do not allow victims to pursue additional lawsuits against the employer or its agents. trucking

In a case recently before the Missouri Supreme Court, plaintiffs tried to hold accountable the supervisors of a commercial trucker for negligence resulting in his death. Plaintiffs in Parr v. Breeden alleged that the supervisors’ negligence breached duties that arose from federal regulations – which were separate and distinct from the employer’s nondelegable duty to provide a safe working environment to its workers.

Had the court adopted this argument, it would have opened the door for claims against individual co-workers and supervisors in cases where federal regulations were violated. However, that did not happen. The court ruled that defendants’ alleged negligence were part of their workplace duties, and the violation of federal laws did not mean there was a separate personal duty that was distinct from their workplace duties.  Continue reading →

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The Florida Supreme Court handed down a significant victory for injured workers and the attorneys who represent them in the recent case of Castellanos v. Next Door Co. et al., a challenge to state limits on workers’ compensation attorney fees.worker3

It’s significant because many injury lawyers have been reluctant to take on workers’ compensation cases, knowing they may not be fairly reimbursed for their time. Plaintiff attorney in the Castellanos case, for example, was reimbursed $1.53 an hour for 107 hours of legal work (a length of time which lower courts agreed was in line with what was necessary to adequately prepare the case).

The ruling comes just one week after the 1st DCA ruled in Miles v. City of Edgewater that it was unconstitutional for the state to restrict a workers’ compensation plaintiff to a strict contingency fee structure with her lawyer, and prohibit a retainer fee or hourly fee payment plan.  Continue reading →

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Highway work zones are dangerous both for the motorists who navigate them and the workers employed there.constructionroad

The U.S. Department of Transportation reports an estimated 88,000 crashes happened in work zones in 2010. Most of these don’t lead to fatalities, but when they do, it can leave families reeling. When a worker is killed, he or she is often a major contributor to the family household income, and it’s important for families to explore all viable options for compensation to ensure future financial security.

Luckily, most if not all of these workers are entitled to some form of workers’ compensation. This is money paid out to an injured worker or, in the event of the worker’s death, his or her surviving, dependent family members. It is not necessarily in a workers’ compensation action to prove negligence, only that the accident occurred in the course and scope of employment. However, workers/family members who collect these benefits cannot pursue legal action against the employer for negligence. There may be an opportunity to file a third-party liability action, but that will depend on the circumstances of the case. Continue reading →

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A man who suffered a leg amputation after falling 30 feet on cement while working at a construction site in New Jersey has been awarded $2.8 million from the building owner and general contractor. construction1

The plaintiff worker in Chin v. Koryo Corp. et al alleged as a native of Korea who spoke limited English, defendants failed to provide him with proper training and a safe workplace environment in which to perform his duties.

One aspect that harmed his case, however, was the finding of comparative fault stemming from the fact he helped construct the bosun chair, comprised of wood and rope, from which he fell. That fact resulted in jurors in his injury case finding him 30 percent at fault for his own injury. Another issue that damaged his case was the defense assertion that he could find other suitable work, as evidenced by his helping a friend find and purchase a new car, thereby receiving a finder’s fee. Continue reading →

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No one is immune from on-the-job injury. It occurs in virtually every type of workplace and to a wide range of workers. younghispanicworker

Still, we know there are certain risk factors that increase the chances of it. For example, we know the construction industry has one of the highest rates of occupational injury compared to other types of jobs. We also know young workers are often injured more often than their more experienced counterparts. So too are Hispanic workers, particularly migrant workers who may not be able to understand or speak English fluently, and are often relegated to dangerous, labor-intensive posts with inadequate supervision.

When all three of these risk factors are combined, the risk shoots up exponentially.

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A man who was severely injured after a building collapsed on him at a Florida construction site was awarded $64.5 million by a jury in Hillsborough County recently.constructionsite

According to the Tampa Bay Times, plaintiff in Matthews v. Mosaic Fertilizer, LLC was injured in 2009 when a building under construction collapsed on him – all 11,000 pounds of it. It crushed his legs, his pelvis and his internal organs.

He was just 25 at the time of the incident.

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Curtis v. Lemna – Third-Party Lawsuits Against Co-Workers May be Barred

Florida employees injured on-the-job should enjoy workers’ compensation coverage, so long as the injury happened during or arose in the course of employment. There is no required proof of negligence or fault, and workers should be compensated fairly quickly. The trade-off is workers can’t then turn around and file a lawsuit against their employer.

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There are, however, some instances wherein workers can file third-party lawsuits where other companies or individuals were responsible. But there are limitations. Typically, one can’t sue a co-worker who caused an injury so long as the co-worker was acting in the course of employment. This can be a little more complicated on a multi-employer site. Florida Statute 440.10 holds that when general and sub-contractors working together with other sub-contractors, they are considered to be engaged in a common enterprise and will be immune from claims of workplace negligence, so long as the sub-contractor or general contractor purchased workers’ compensation insurance.

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A recent decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court not only affirmed previous rulings allowing undocumented workers to obtain workers’ compensation benefits, but also held the employer – not the worker – bears the burden of proving a worker’s loss of earning power was a result of his non-citizenship status, as opposed to his injury.
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Our Fort Lauderdale work injury lawyers recognize this ruling echoes other decision in Florida courts that protect injured, undocumented workers. Those decisions include Cenvill Development Corp. v. Candelo (Fla. 1st DCA, 1985) and, more recently, HDV Const. Systems, Inc. v. Aragon (Fla. 1st DCA, 2011).

In the Aragon case, a man working as a framer for a construction firm fell 30 feet on the job, sustaining numerous fractures to his foot and forearm. His fall required him to undergo extensive treatment, including the implantation of a spinal cord stimulator. Even so, his injuries were permanent, and included constant pain, nerve damage and discoloration. Doctors determined he should be restricted to sedentary work, which meant he was no longer eligible to work in construction, manufacturing or farming.
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