How to get the compensation you need after a California construction accident
Heavy machinery, dangerous tools, toxic substances, and staggering heights: the construction industry is fraught with risk.
Fortunately, most California construction workers injured at work are protected by the California workers’ compensation system. In those rare cases when workers’ compensation laws don’t apply, injured construction workers may be able to file a third-party personal injury lawsuit to recover damages.
Construction accident causes, injuries, and statistics
Across the country, more than 1 in 5 worker deaths are in the construction industry. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) identifies 4 hazards responsible for more than half of construction worker deaths. These hazards, termed the “fatal four hazards,” include:
- Being struck by an object
- Getting caught in or between equipment
In California, 309 construction workers were killed in work-related accidents from 2013-2017.
If these numbers don’t seem high to you, consider this:
The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries found that over a 45-year career, a construction worker has a 75% likelihood of experiencing a disabling injury and a 1 in 200 chance of being fatally injured on the job.
Common non-fatal construction-accident injuries include:
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Broken bones
- Eye injuries
- Neck and back injuries
- Respiratory disease
- Spinal cord injuries
OSHA ultimately determined that the death was a result of the lack of effective safeguards in place as required when there’s an employee exposed below an elevated work area.
Workplace injuries on a construction site can arise in a number of different circumstances. Some of the most common types of construction mishaps include:
- Scaffolding accidents
- Car and truck accidents
- Crane accidents
- Forklift accidents
- Slips, trips and falls
- Ladder accidents
Legal remedies for injured California construction workers
If you’re injured in a construction accident, you may be looking at a lengthy recovery and stacks of medical bills. Fortunately, injured construction workers can generally receive compensation for their injuries by filing a workers’ compensation claim or a third-party lawsuit.
Filing a workers’ compensation claim
Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance that provides benefits to employees who are injured while performing a work-related task. In California, all employers that employ at least 1 person are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance.
Under California’s workers’ compensation laws, the following benefits may be available to injured workers:
- Medical costs. Covered medical costs include doctor visits, tests, medicines, and physical rehabilitation, among other things.
- Temporary disability benefits. If your injury prevents you from doing your usual job while recovering, you can receive financial compensation.
- Permanent disability benefits. If you won’t recover completely, no matter how much treatment you receive, you can receive financial compensation.
- Supplemental job displacement benefits. You can receive a voucher to help pay for retraining or skill enhancement if you’re eligible to receive permanent disability benefits, your employer doesn’t offer you work, and you don’t return to work for your employer.
- Death benefits. Dependents of a construction worker killed as a result of an on-the-job injury can receive death benefits, including weekly financial compensation and money for funeral expenses.
One of the primary benefits of filing a workers’ compensation claim is that you don’t need to prove that your employer (or anyone else) was at fault in order to receive benefits. You need only prove that:
- The injury occurred while performing a work task,
- The injury is covered under the California workers’ compensation laws,
- You didn’t intentionally cause your injury, and
- The injury wasn’t the result of your drug or alcohol use.
Filing a third-party lawsuit
In California, you can’t receive workers’ compensation benefits and sue your employer or co-worker for your work-related injury.
However, if you’re injured by a third party (someone other than your employer or co-worker), you can, in most cases, file a workers’ compensation claim and file a separate third-party personal injury lawsuit against the person or entity that caused your injury.
Filing and winning a third-party lawsuit are 2 different things.
When it comes to workers’ compensation, California is a “no-fault” state. This means you can file a workers’ compensation claim and receive benefits without having to prove that your employer did anything wrong. This isn’t the case when it comes to filing a third-party lawsuit.
To win a third-party lawsuit, you generally have to prove that the third party was negligent. This means proving that:
- The third party owed you a duty of care
- The third party breached that duty of care
- The third party’s breach was the legal cause of your injury
Third-party lawsuits may be appropriate in certain situations, including situations where:
- An employee is injured by a defective piece of equipment
- An employee is injured by a dangerous condition that existed on the property where the employee was working
- A motor vehicle accident occurred while the employee was working
What to do if you’ve been injured in a California construction accident
In California, you’re required to report your injury to your employer within 30 days from the date of the injury. In addition, you need to provide your employer with a filled out Workers’ Compensation Claim Form (DWC 1) within 1 year of the date of the injury.
If you’re filing a third-party lawsuit based on negligence, you have, in most cases, 2 years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit.
It’s not uncommon for workers’ compensation claims to be denied or for construction workers to be offered less than they feel they deserve. If you don’t feel you’re being properly compensated for your injury, consider consulting with a California workers’ compensation attorney. An experienced attorney can help get your claim on track so you can focus on recovering from your injury.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.