Construction Accidents, Workers’ Compensation, & Third-Party Claims in California
A typical construction worker has a 75% chance of sustaining a disabling injury on the job over the course of a 45-year career. Hundreds of California workers are injured on construction sites each year. Worse yet, there is a 1 in 200 risk of fatal injury, according to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. Between 50 and 70 California construction workers die in workplace accidents annually.
The dangers are many – from heavy machinery and staggering heights, to hazardous electrical equipment and toxic substances. Workers can fall, get struck by objects, become electrocuted, inhale toxins, or fall, causing disabling injuries to the spine, brain, eye, bones, and lungs.
Most California construction workers are protected by the state workers’ compensation system, which provides “no-fault” benefits to the employee, while protecting the employer from a costly lawsuit. When the injuries are substantial, the amount paid for a workers’ compensation claim may not be enough to cover the medical bills, lost income, and hardship faced. California construction workers may be eligible to file third-party personal injury claims to recover damages in some cases.
How California Workers’ Comp Can Help Injured Construction Workers
California workers’ compensation will typically cover:
- Reasonable and necessary medical treatment – Doctor’s visits, tests, medication, surgery, hospital stays, ambulance rides, travel costs (54 cents per mile), and physical rehabilitation are often covered by workers’ compensation. Disputes may arise when the insurance company refuses to pay for what they deem to be “experimental” treatments or “above and beyond” care. Sometimes this decision can be overturned with the help of an experienced attorney.
- Wage loss reimbursement – Financial compensation is given when workers cannot fully support themselves during treatment, rehabilitation, and recovery. Typically, workers receive two-thirds pay. How long a person receives wage replacement depends upon the severity and duration of the injuries.
- Vocational training – You may be eligible to receive education and training to work in a new field that pays a meaningful wage if your injury prevents you from resuming work in construction.
- Death benefits – Spouses and dependents can receive financial compensation for funeral and burial costs, as well as weekly payments when a construction worker breadwinner dies as a result of a workplace catastrophe.
To be eligible for workers’ compensation, you need only prove that the injury occurred at work, you were not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and that you did not otherwise intentionally cause your own injury.
How A Third-Party Liability Claim Can Help Injured Construction Workers in California
A lawsuit, or third-party liability claim, typically covers:
- Medical expenses – The same medical expenses that workers’ compensation covers applies here.
- Lost wages – You are entitled to seek 100% wage reimbursement (minus taxes) for past time off work, as well as for future reduced work capacity or loss of income.
- Pain and suffering – An estimated amount of money is awarded to compensate for intangible losses, such as mental anguish, depression, the physical aches and pains of disability, loss of enjoyment in life, shortened life expectancy, loss of consortium, and present limitations on activity,
- Death benefits – Survivors are eligible for funeral and burial cost reimbursement, as well as income replacement and an estimate for loss of guidance, companionship, and household services. Survival causes of action may be additionally filed on behalf of the decedent to cover outstanding medical debts, lost wages, as well as pain and suffering endured prior to death.
Your case may be eligible for a third-party liability claim if another person’s negligence, recklessness, or malicious wrongdoing causes the accident that led to the injury. While employers are generally protected by workers’ compensation, other potentially liable parties do not share such protections.
Who Can Be Sued in a Third Party Claim Following a Construction Accident?
Depending on the unique circumstances of your case, third party liability can be ascribed to:
- Motor vehicle manufacturers – when a vehicle has a manufacturing defect that leads to injury.
- Motor vehicle maintenance personnel – when an improper vehicle repair leads to injury.
- Tool or equipment manufacturers – when faulty manufacturing causes product failure and harm.
- Chemical manufacturer – when a chemical did not contain proper warnings about known risks.
- Subcontractor – when the property owner or general contractor allowed hazardous work conditions.
- Coworker – when grossly negligent, reckless, or intentional acts cause injury.
To succeed in a third-party lawsuit, your legal team must prove the third party owed you a duty of care; that they breached that duty of care; and that the breach was the cause of your injuries. Third-party construction claims typically commonly arise from workers injured due to motor vehicle accidents, defective equipment, faulty stairwells/lifts, electrical hazards, lead poisoning, asbestos, collapsing trenches, fires, and explosions.
When Can You Sue Your Employer?
Generally, you can’t sue your employer when an injury is sustained on-the-job. This is why workers’ comp exists after all, but there are several noteworthy exceptions to the rule:
- Your employer doesn’t have the state-mandated workers’ comp insurance – The state has set aside a special fund to help eligible injured employees whose employers do not carry mandatory workers’ compensation insurance to help provide for your expenses during recovery. However, the benefits may be reduced, so construction workers may also pursue a settlement from the employer via a third-party claim to cover the gap.
- Your employer was GROSSLY negligent – If you can secure proof that your employer broke the law, failed to provide necessary training and safety equipment, or intentionally created hazardous conditions in the workplace, you can still sue for damages.
- Your employer assaulted you – “No-fault” doesn’t apply when your employer physically attacks you in the workplace. You cannot sue if the employer injured you in self-defense, but you can certainly file a lawsuit if your employer came after you.
What To Do If You’ve Been Hurt on a Construction Site
- Seek medical care. Seeking immediate medical attention is imperative, no matter what you decide to do. Even if you “feel fine,” it is always best to get your injuries documented by a medical professional.
- Be mindful of deadlines. You must report injuries to your employer within 30 days of sustaining them in order to be eligible for workers’ compensation. You must fill out a Workers’ Compensation Claim Form (DWC1) within a year. If you elect to file a third-party lawsuit through a personal injury lawyer, you have (in most cases) up to two years from the date of injury.
- Stand up for your rights. If you are denied or feel you are unfairly compensated through the workers’ compensation program, it is worth speaking with a California law firm that can advocate on your behalf so that you can focus on your recovery.
Ellis Injury Law provides free case reviews for construction site accidents, so you have nothing to lose in exploring your full set of options. We will help you identify potential areas of liability and pursue any legitimate third-party claims. You only pay us for our services if and when we secure a settlement on your behalf. Contact us today.