How to get the compensation you need after a Montana construction accident
It's no secret that construction is a dangerous profession. As a construction worker, any given day you might be balancing on scaffolding, carrying heavy loads, operating large machines, or using equipment or tools that could be hazardous, even when used properly.
Fortunately, you're not alone. The Montana workers' compensation system protects workers in all industries and provides benefits if you're injured on the job.
There were 40 total recordable non-fatal injuries for construction industries in 2017; 15 of those required days off from work for recovery and 5 resulted in job transfers or restrictions. The highest number of job-related injuries in construction in Montana in 2017 was for residential building construction.
What injuries are covered by workers' compensation?
Workers' compensation is like a catch-all for work-related injuries. It would cover any injury, large or small, that happens on the jobsite.
Whether your injury is the result of a one-time accident like a slip and fall or a gradual injury that developed over time, workers' comp should cover your medical expenses, ongoing therapies or treatments, past and future lost wages, or death benefits if you've lost a family member.
Is a construction accident ever a personal injury lawsuit, and not a workers' compensation claim?
The difference between workers' compensation and personal injury is that workers' compensation benefits are guaranteed for almost any injury that happens on the job, regardless of who was at fault. In other words, your employer is presumed to be responsible for your safety at work. There's no determination of fault or liability in a workers' compensation claim; you merely need to show that your injury is the result of a specific incident or the conditions in the workplace. Once that's established, workers' compensation insurance should pay your benefits.
A personal injury lawsuit, on the other hand, is based on someone's fault or negligence. If someone owes you a duty of care, they're liable if you're injured because they were negligent in upholding their responsibility.
Who's responsible for a construction accident?
In construction accident cases, an employer always has a duty to protect their employees from harm.
As an employee of a construction company, your employer has a duty to keep you safe. There are two basic goals of the workers' compensation system in Montana:
- To provide compensation for an injured worker, regardless of fault.
- To provide legal protection to an employer so that the company can't be sued for a worker's injury.
Although workers' compensation is usually your only remedy when it comes to your construction accident, there might be third parties who could be liable for your on-the-job injury.
For example, if your construction accident is the result of defective personal protective equipment (PPE) like a faulty harness or insecure scaffold, you might be able to file a lawsuit against the manufacturer of that equipment.
If your Montana construction accident happened because a piece of equipment was defective, you might be able to file a workers' compensation claim and file a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the equipment. Workers' compensation rules wouldn't apply in the personal injury lawsuit; you'd file a lawsuit under the general rules for personal injury by product liability.
If you're severely injured, or if you've lost a loved one in a construction accident, a personal injury lawsuit for product liability (if applicable) might be the best way to recover damages for pain and suffering, which are not included in workers' compensation benefits.
Common construction accident injuries
There are some injuries that are especially common on construction sites:
- Falls. Falls from scaffolding, roofs, ladders, or other high places account for 34% of work-related fatalities for construction workers.
- Overexertion. If you're on a construction crew that works outside in hot or humid conditions, overexertion can be a problem because of the long hours, fatigue, and dehydration.
- Caught-between/struck-by. Workers can become caught in heavy machinery or between a vehicle and a stationary object, which can cause severe injury including crushing.
- Electrocution. Even non-electrical workers can be in contact with exposed wires on a construction site. A mild shock or fatal electrocution can happen near power lines or an unfinished electrical system.
- Falling objects. Even if your feet are firmly rooted on the ground, an object or tool can fall from above and cause head or other injuries.
- Exposure to chemicals or toxins. As a construction worker, you might be exposed to asbestos, lead, mold, radiation, or other toxins in the workplace. Long-term exposure might not affect you immediately, but you could develop health effects over time from breathing in these substances. Montana workers' compensation insurance covers health conditions that occur as a result of chemical exposure at work.
- Elevator shaft accidents. Elevator shafts can be dangerous, whether from falling or being crushed by a falling elevator. This is especially prevalent in mining.
- Gas leaks, fires, explosions. These occurrences happen on construction sites, and they can be fast and deadly.
- Crane, hoist, and forklift accidents. Improper training, operator error, equipment defects or inadequate maintenance can lead to accidents.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) calls these types of accidents the “Fatal Four” in the construction industry. The percentages reflect the portion of construction accident fatalities each type of accident is responsible for:
- Falls (39%)
- Struck by an object (8%)
- Electrocution (7%)
- Caught-between (5%)
What to do if you've been injured in a Montana construction accident
In Montana, you're required to report the injury to your employer within 30 days of the accident or the date of diagnosis if it's a long-term injury or illness. The deadline to file a claim with the Montana Department of Labor & Industry is one year from the date of injury or diagnosis.
If your employer's workers' compensation policy fully covers your injury expenses, hopefully you're on your way to a speedy recovery. But if the negotiations become strained, or if you feel that you're not getting the full compensation you deserve, it's time to consult a Montana personal injury and workers' compensation lawyer. A skilled and experienced attorney can work with the insurance company to negotiate a settlement that takes care of your present and future expenses, or will file additional lawsuits if necessary.