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.
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.
The Florida Department of Health reports there were 747 construction workers killed at work between 2007 and 2011, and falls are the No. 1 cause of construction worker deaths.
In the case of the California worker, as reported by The Mercury News, plaintiff alleges decedent (her 34-year-old husband) died in a 76-foot fall from the sixth story of a new building that is planned for lease by Apple Inc. Decedent reportedly left his home around 4 a.m., arrived at the site around 5 a.m. and part of his job involved installing rebar and iron reinforcements for the concrete structure. To get to those rebar cables, however, decedent had to walk across a plywood platform. However, this platform was reportedly poorly-constructed and not reinforced, and therefore collapsed.
An investigation by federal authorities with the Occupational Safety & Housing Administration revealed the reinforcements underneath the platform had been removed at some point to prepare for pouring the concrete. Numerous construction workers heard the piercing screams of the worker, who was found alive around 7:50 a.m. However, he died approximately 10 minutes later.
Worker’s wife began receiving panicked calls from other workers on site. She tried to contact her husband repeatedly. Those calls, which showed up on his phone under the name, “My Love,” were never answered. She tried repeatedly to call the company for information, but couldn’t get through. It wasn’t until she showed up at the site, some four hours after the incident, that she was informed of his death. She said she stood there for a long time before someone with the property owner informed her she would need to leave.
Decedent left behind not only a wife, but three children between the ages of 1 and 4.
Plaintiff’s complaint alleges wrongful death and premises liability.
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Widow files wrongful death suit in fatal construction fall in Sunnyvale, Sept. 1, 2017, By Victoria Kezra, The Mercury News
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