Legal options for injured construction workers in the Palmetto State
Six construction employees hired to install trailers on a military base in Columbia, South Carolina, were holding cables attached to a trailer that was going to be lifted by a crane when the spreader bar rigging attached to the crane came in contact with energized overhead power lines transmitting electricity through the cables. One construction worker received a fatal shock and the other workers were seriously injured.
A subsequent investigation found that the general contractor was aware of the electrical hazards but took no action to de-energize the power lines, ground them, or install insulating barriers during the lift.
Unfortunately, accidents like this are far too common in the construction industry. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the legal options for construction workers injured in a construction accident in South Carolina.
How dangerous is the construction industry?
Though fatal and non-fatal construction injuries actually decreased by 30% between 1992 and 2015, the construction industry remains one of the most dangerous industries in the United States.
Construction accident statistics
Just how dangerous is the construction industry?
Consider the following statistics:
- Approximately 1 in every 10 construction workers is injured every year
- Approximately 1 in every 5 worker deaths every year are in construction
- A construction worker who works for 45 years has a 1 in 200 chance of dying in a work-related incident
- Construction workers experience a non-fatal injury rate 71% higher than any other industry
- Twelve of the 25 most dangerous jobs are in the construction industry
What are the most common causes of construction accidents?
There are 4 types of accidents in the construction industry that occur so frequently and are so often the cause of construction-worker deaths that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has labeled them “The Fatal Four.”
|“Fatal Four” construction accidents (2018)|
|Type||Example||Percentage of 2018 deaths|
|Falls||A worker falls from scaffolding||33.5%|
|Being struck by an object||A worker hoisting bricks in a bucket to the top of a building is struck in the head when the bucket tilts and the bricks spill out||11.1%|
|Electrocutions||A worker comes into contact with a downed powerline||8.5%|
|Getting caught in or between equipment||A worker is caught between a truck frame and a hydraulic bed that’s lowering||5.5%|
In South Carolina, the 2 leading causes of fatalities among construction workers are falls and struck-by hazards.
Of course, there are other causes of construction accidents, including the failure of construction companies to take basic safety precautions. To that end, the South Carolina OSHA conducted 164 inspections in the construction industry in 2018 and issued 164 citations with 519 instances for a serious violation rate of 77.8%
Legal remedies available to injured construction workers in South Carolina
There are 2 main legal options for injured construction workers who wish to receive compensation depending on the nature of the accident.
Let’s take a look at both options.
1. Filing a workers’ compensation claim
Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance that compensates employees who are injured on the job regardless of who’s at fault for the accident.
In South Carolina, with a few narrow exceptions, employers with 4 or more employees must provide workers’ compensation coverage to their employees. What’s more, workers’ compensation covers nearly all injuries and illnesses so long as they “arise out of and in the course of” the job.
There are 2 main steps involved in filing a workers’ compensation claim:
- The injured worker must report their work-related injury to their employer within 90 days of the date of the injury.
- The employer must complete and submit a Form 50 to the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission.
The benefits you can receive if your claim is accepted include:
- Reasonable and necessary medical expenses
- Income replacement benefits (if your injury forces you to miss work or take a lesser-paying job)
Can a workers’ compensation claim be filed on behalf of a fatally-injured construction worker?
If a work-related accident causes the death of a construction worker within 6 years of the accident, dependents of the deceased employee can file a workers’ compensation claim (Form 52) and receive the following benefits:
- Two-thirds of the deceased employees average weekly wage for 500 weeks
- An additional $2,500 for funeral costs
If the deceased employee had no dependents, the full cost of the funeral is paid and additional benefits are paid to the deceased employee’s parents (or to the estate if no parents are living).
2. Filing a third-party personal injury lawsuit
Workers’ compensation is an “exclusive remedy,” which means that you can’t file a personal injury lawsuit against your employer or your colleagues if your injury is covered by workers’ compensation.
However, if a third-party (someone other than your employer or colleague) caused or contributed to your injury, you may be able to file a third-party personal injury lawsuit against them in lieu of or in addition to a workers’ compensation claim. In this case, you would want to seek help from a personal injury lawyer in your area, as opposed to a workers’ compensation attorney.
What steps should an injured construction worker take after an accident?
The moments following a construction accident are likely to be chaotic, but there are some things you can do to increase the chances of being compensated for your injuries:
- Seek medical attention. Your health should be your top priority. If you receive workers’ compensation, your employer is allowed to choose your treatment providers. However, there’s an exception for emergency treatment, which means you shouldn’t hesitate to call 9-1-1 if necessary.
- Report your injury. In order to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, you need to report your injury to your employer in writing within 90 days of the accident. Even if you don’t think you are covered by workers’ comp, it’s a good idea to let your employer know anyway just in case.
- Document everything. The better records you have, the better chance you have at being properly compensated. The Enjuris expense worksheet and post-accident journal can help you stay organized.