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Scaffolding and Staging Accident Attorneys

New York City construction work differs in many instances from those that take place in other major cities and towns in the United States. There is no other city in the country that has as many tall buildings and bridges. New York City’s skyscrapers and numerous other tall structures are constantly being worked on by crews who perform a variety of jobs – from construction and renovation to carpentry, washing and cleaning. The city can be an extremely dangerous place for construction workers, especially those who work from heights on scaffolds.

Past accident data shows many incidents where construction workers were killed, injured and/or disabled due to inadequate safety measures while working on scaffolding. Scaffolds are temporary structures used to support construction crewmembers. In New York City, it is common to see large scaffolds built over sidewalks and around high rises to give workers the space needed to carry out their construction and remodeling jobs. A number of different types of construction workers from bricklayers and carpenters to painters and electricians use scaffolds in order to perform their tasks. It is important that all workers who have been injured or disabled while on the job at construction sites understand their legal rights and options.

Scaffolding Accident Statistics

According to the Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA), about 65 percent of all workers in the construction industry use scaffolds frequently. Many of these workers are in constant danger of suffering devastating injuries that put their livelihoods at risk. OSHA estimates that 50 fatalities and 4,500 injuries occur each year in the United States due to scaffolding accidents. In the year 2009, there were 4,551 occupational deaths in the United States including 54 fatal falls from scaffolds and staging.

New York City Department of Buildings records show that there were 12,621 suspended scaffold notifications, 8,577 c-hook notifications, 4,044 outrigger beam notifications and 2,678 supported scaffolding permits issued in the year 2012. There were also 5,844 sidewalk shed permits issued and 3,809 complaints received about sidewalk sheds and scaffolds.

New York’s Scaffolding Law

Section 240 of the New York Labor Law is commonly known as the “Scaffolding Law” because it governs the use of scaffolding, staging and other devices that workers use at construction sites. The law primarily requires general contractors, building owners and construction companies to provide the necessary equipment to protect workers from on-the-job falls.

The Scaffolding Law was enacted in the early part of the 20th century during the New York City construction boom. This law gives injured workers the ability to bring civil actions against the parties responsible for the safety of the jobsite. Courts have historically found contractors and owners strictly liable when a worker is injured or killed in a fall. The worker or the family members of a worker killed in a construction accident does not need to prove that the contractor or building owner was negligent. Unlike other types of injury lawsuits, an injured worker’s own negligence, unless the only cause of his or her injuries, will not preclude recovery under the Scaffolding Law.

New York’s Scaffolding Law was approved in recognition of the hazardous conditions under which these laborers work. The lawmakers realize that falls are the most common cause of fatal construction accidents. Thousands of workers are injured or killed as a result of construction site falls each year. A number of them suffer permanent injuries and disabilities as a consequence. Unfortunately, many of these falls are entirely preventable and might not even have happened had the contractor, building owner or other responsible party followed local, state and federal safety regulations.

The Scaffolding Law is currently under attack by opponents ­ – primarily builders, contractors and property owners, who say the law allows workers who cause their own injuries to collect a windfall at the expense of the businesses. They also say that it puts New York at a disadvantage because many other states don’t have a similar law.

However, it is important to remember that New York City is unique when it comes to construction activity and when it comes to the number of workers who are on the job at higher elevations. In such an environment, it is important to give contractors and building owners the impetus to provide workers with the protections and safety devices they need. In the absence of the Scaffolding Law, employers may not have the motivation to ensure that their employees are properly protected at jobsites.

Dangers Associated with Scaffolding

There are a number of different types of scaffolds — fabricated, wood pole, coupler, outrigger, mobile, suspended, swinging and needle beam – to mention a few. However, they all have one requirement in common. They must be safe for workers. This means that all scaffolding should be properly erected, constructed and maintained. The wood and parts used to build the scaffolding must not be substandard or of poor quality. Scaffolding should be kept free of trash, debris, tools and slippery substances including ice.

Scaffolding accidents could happen when the scaffolding is not:

  • Properly assembled
  • Properly maintained or supported
  • Properly tested
  • Assembled by workers who are not appropriately trained or supervised
  • Secured or stabilized properly
  • Equipped with handrails, crossbars or guards, or nets, etc.

Accidents could also occur when the scaffolds and their components are loaded beyond their rated maximum capacities. Scaffolds must never be moved when workers are still on them. In addition, scaffolds should be constructed away from live power lines to prevent electrical accidents. Workers should not be allowed up on scaffolding when the weather is inclement. Work should be stopped until snow, ice and other risks that could cause slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall accidents are eliminated. Scaffolds should never be used during stormy or windy weather.

Scaffold Accident Prevention

The majority of New York City scaffold accidents are preventable. In order to reduce the chances of a collapse or fall:

  • The scaffolding must be erected on solid footing. This means that the construction site should be inspected before the scaffolding is built.
  • The scaffolding should not be moved or altered without the approval of an approved supervisor.
  • The scaffolding should be able to support its own weight as well as four times the maximum intended load.
  • Every scaffold should have guardrails, midrails and toeboards to prevent falling accidents.
  • Damaged ladders and braces should be replaced immediately.
  • Scaffolds should be built at least 10 feet away from electrical power lines to prevent electrocution accidents.
  • A construction supervisor should inspect the rigging on the scaffold before every shift.
  • Ropes used to secure the scaffolding should be kept from heat sources.
  • Netting should be secured around scaffolding. Scaffold nets can catch falling workers and may prevent blunt force trauma injuries.
  • Workers should be provided with harnesses and other fall protection devices.

Injuries Suffered in Scaffolding Accidents

The severity of the injuries suffered in scaffolding accidents often depend on the circumstances of the incident. Victims of scaffolding collapse accidents and slip-and-fall accidents can suffer multiple bone fractures, internal injuries, traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries or even death. Workers who are struck by falling tools and equipment can suffer blunt impact injuries and penetrating injuries including brain trauma and severe lacerations.

If workers come into contact with live wires or electrical lines, they can be electrocuted. Workers injured in scaffolding accidents may not be able to return to work for a significant period of time. Even after surviving their accident, many workers tend to suffer long-term or in some cases permanent injuries and disabilities. They end up losing their livelihoods and are unable to provide for their families.

Steps to Take

As an injured worker, it is important that you take the steps necessary to protect your rights and options. Immediately after an accident, please contact a New York personal injury lawyer who has experience handling construction accidents. Choose an attorney who has a successful track record with accident cases involving scaffoldings and stagings.

If you have been hurt in a scaffolding accident, it may be in your best interest to:

  • Promptly notify your supervisor.
  • Have someone take photos of the scaffolding, the site of the accident and of your injuries.
  • Discuss with your employer if there is a specific hospital you have to visit to be covered by your company’s workers’ compensation insurance.
  • Write down exactly what happened and what you were doing before suffering your injury. Takes note regarding who built the scaffold, what safety devices you were provided and how many supervisors were on hand at the time of the accident.
  • Gather the names and contact information from anyone who witnessed your scaffolding accident.
  • Seek medical attention right away. Do not decline treatment if provided at the scene. Getting the treatment and care you need promptly will help maximize your chances for a full recovery in most cases.
  • It is also a good idea to maintain a journal detailing how you felt after the accident and during the time you spent recovering from the injuries.

Workers’ Compensation and Third-Party Claims

Injured construction workers may not be able to return to their jobs for a long time. Some may never be able to return to a construction job as a result of their injuries. Injured victims can seek workers’ compensation benefits, which cover medical expenses and a portion of wages lost during recovery. However, workers’ compensation can often prove to be inadequate for an injured worker, who may be the primary or only wage earner in his or her family. In many cases, there are other avenues of recovery in addition to workers’ compensation.

There are cases where injured workers or families of workers killed on the job can file what is known as a “third-party claim” for significant money damages. These are claims that are filed against parties other than employers. Examples of third parties that may be responsible for a scaffolding accident include general contractors, sub-contractors, property owners, manufacturers of defective products, etc. For example, a construction worker may be injured due to a defectively constructed scaffold or a defective part that caused the scaffolding to collapse. In such a case, the manufacturer can be held liable.

Compensation for Injured Workers

Injured construction workers can seek compensation for damages including, but not limited to:

  • Medical expenses: These expenses include emergency room costs, hospitalization, surgeries, cost of medication, medical devices, etc.
  • Lost wages: This includes all income that was lost as a result of the injuries. Workers must often take a significant period of time off to recover from their serious injuries.
  • Rehabilitation: This refers to any type of therapy that is needed for the worker to regain the strength and mobility required to do his or her job. Construction workers require remarkable strength, balance and agility to perform their jobs. This means that a serious injury could put these victims out of work for months or even years. Rehabilitation including physical therapy can be extremely costly. Many of these expenses may not even be covered by the worker’s health insurance.
  • Lost future income: If the worker has suffered major injuries such as a traumatic brain injury, paralysis, broken bones, etc., he or she is also entitled to damages for lost future income and loss of his or her livelihood. A number of scaffolding accident victims are unable to rejoin the work force in any capacity. Many need round-the-clock nursing care, which could add up to millions of dollars during a person’s lifetime.
  • Past and future pain and suffering: This includes the physical and emotional pain caused to the victim as a result of the injuries.
  • Wrongful death: When a worker suffers fatal injuries on the job, his or her family members can file a wrongful death claim seeking compensation for damages such as lost future income, pain and suffering, medical expenses, funeral costs, etc.

Contacting an Experienced Lawyer

If you or a loved one has been injured in a construction accident, the experienced New York personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Kenneth A. Wilhelm can help you better understand your legal rights and options. Our law firm recovered $3,375,576 for a construction worker who was injured on the job – one of the highest construction case settlements in New York in 2010.

Please contact us TOLL FREE 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-WORK-4-YOU (1-800-967-5496). WE CAN EVEN COME TO YOU. There is no attorneys’ fee unless we recover money for you. We can also help with personal injury cases in New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, or Florida. If you have been seriously injured in any of the 50 U.S. states, please call us and we will try to help you with your case.

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1-800-RADIO-LAW, 1-888-WYPADEK, OR 1-800-LAS-LEYES

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