There’s no job that’s completely free of injury risk. Even if your job mainly consists of answering the phone or performing data entry, there’s always a chance that you can trip and fall over a phone or computer cord, drop a box or item on your foot, take a spill from a chair you didn’t know was broken, or suffer some other kind of injury... even if you work at home.
But a construction site is more dangerous than most workplaces.
According to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction is the highest-risk injury based on the number of workplace fatalities. In 2017, there were nearly 1,000 construction-related fatalities nationwide, or 9.5 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers.
In 2018, the total number of workplace injuries in the construction industry in North Carolina was 2.5 per 100,000 workers. Of those, 1 per 100,000 involved days where the person couldn’t be at work and 0.6 per 100,000 where the worker needed a job transfer or restriction.
Workers’ compensation is a system that protects both an employer and an employee when an injury happens.
When you file a workers’ compensation claim, you need to show that your injury happened while you were on your work site or performing a work-related task. Even if the injury was caused because you made a mistake, you’re still eligible for workers’ compensation.
This benefits the employee because it strips away the layer of a personal injury lawsuit that often is the biggest barrier to recovering damages — proving negligence. The employer is presumed to be responsible for your safety at work.
It also benefits the employer. Because your employer is required to maintain workers’ compensation insurance for each employee, the company generally can’t be sued for work-related injuries. In other words, workers’ compensation is your only remedy for a work injury. As such, it covers the costs of your medical expenses and lost wages related to the injury.
Even if you’re considered an independent contractor for tax purposes (i.e. you’re issued a Form 1099 rather than a W-2), there are still instances where a company would be required to provide workers’ compensation benefits.
This often happens in construction, because most work is contract-based and a company might hire workers with a particular set of skills for a specific job or project.
There’s a simple test that a court will apply to determine if someone is an independent contractor for workers’ compensation purposes. In general, if you’re working on the employer’s schedule and at their direction, using their materials and supplies, and following their lead for how the project must be completed, you’re entitled to workers’ compensation coverage. The North Carolina Industrial Commission evaluates eligibility on an individual basis.
If you are indeed eligible for workers’ compensation, the benefits available include:
Is my construction accident injury ever a personal injury lawsuit and not covered by workers’ compensation?
Yes, there are circumstances when a construction accident injury might be best resolved through a personal injury lawsuit.
Some construction accidents happen because a worker is using defective or faulty equipment or tools. For example, if a scaffold doesn’t hold the weight it’s meant to hold, or you fall because a safety harness breaks, or your safety goggles shatter when they shouldn’t and you’re blinded, then a product liability lawsuit might be more appropriate than a workers’ compensation claim.
Product liability is the type of lawsuit you’d file if your injury is the result of a defect in a particular item. It could be the result of 1 of 3 types of defects:
Each of these defects is a negligent act or omission on the part of the manufacturer of the item or device that caused the injury.
It’s less likely for a person to be injured on a construction site if they’re not there for work. This is because most construction sites are clearly marked, barricaded, and closed off to people who aren’t approved to work there.
But sometimes there’s construction inside a building, on a roadway, or in another place that you need to pass by or through. If you’re injured because of a trip-and-fall, a fall into a hole, being hit by a falling object, or any other injury on a construction site where you were permitted to be, you might be able to sue the construction company for personal injury.
A person, company, or public (i.e. government) agency may be responsible for maintaining the property to be free from foreseeable hazards. This area of law is called premises liability.
If you’ve been injured, your first priority is to seek medical treatment. It’s never a good idea to delay medical treatment because some conditions can become more severe if left untreated.
Second, determine how you’re going to make a claim for compensation — whether it’s through the workers’ compensation system or as a personal injury claim — and know the statutes of limitations that apply — A statute of limitations is the time frame you have in which to file a claim.
If you’re submitting a North Carolina workers’ compensation claim, however, you must immediately inform your employer of your injury. You should submit a Form 18 to the North Carolina Industrial Commission within 30 days, and you must file your claim within 2 years of the injury.
You also might consider finding a lawyer near you who can assist with your claim.
Whether it’s a workers’ comp claim or a personal injury lawsuit, things can get complicated quickly. Your lawyer will advise you on how to file a claim, what you should demand for damages, and what you can realistically expect as a resolution.