Construction employees perform work that is critical to our economy and society as a whole. They are involved in constructing buildings, bridges, homes, and roads. While there have been a number of improvements over the last few decades to improve safety standards in this industry, workers are still subject to occupational hazards in the workplace. In fact, one out of five deaths in the workplace occurs in construction based upon data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA. From 2007 to 2011, construction accidents were responsible for the most workplace fatalities out of any industry in Florida, with falls being the most common reason for death.
Last year, in Jacksonville, Florida, a worker died after falling nearly 100 feet when he attempted to jump to an elevator while working on the 10th floor of a condominium. In January 2021, a delivery driver who was contracted by a third-party carrier was killed at a Home Depot in St. Petersburg, Florida after unloading drywall onto a truck when the construction materials fell on him. These incidents represent the situations that result in the highest number of construction-related fatalities for workers. According to OSHA, the most common types of construction accidents resulting in deaths are the “fatal four” and these account for 60 percent of all construction-related deaths. These include falls, slips, or trips, the leading cause of construction worker deaths, followed by being struck by an object or equipment, electrocution, and getting caught in or between machines and equipment. Other statistics about the industry offer further data about the most common fatal injuries that occur at construction sites.
In 2019, OSHA reported that occupations related to construction and extraction reached the highest number of fatalities since 2007 – with 1,061 deaths. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reported that the private construction industry in Florida had 91 fatalities, the highest number of deaths in an industry. These workers may be roofers, carpenters, construction laborers, among other tradesmen. The Midwest Economic Policy Institute (MEPI) found that construction-related deaths cost the United States nearly $5 billion in pain and suffering, reduced quality of life every year and lost family income, and lost production.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fatalities primarily occurred in the following sectors of the construction industry:
- Heavy and civil engineering construction
- Construction of buildings, including Residential building construction and Nonresidential building construction
- Utility system construction
- Water and sewer line construction
- Power and communication line construction
- Highway, street, and bridge construction
- Other heavy and civil engineering construction
People who are involved in these accidents are often:
- Specialty trade contractors, including roofing, masonry, siding, and framing contractors
- Building equipment contractors including those involved in electrical construction, plumbing, building finishing, paint and wall coverings, and flooring
While statistics are data points for workplace fatalities, and more specifically, those related to construction in Florida, they do not represent the totality of what a family may face in the wake of losing a loved one in a construction accident. While OSHA may cite companies for any failures to comply with industry standards and subsequent worker deaths and injuries and workers’ compensation may provide some degree of financial relief, legal claims may lead to compensation on the victim’s behalf.
A loved one or family member may file a wrongful death legal claim on the victim’s behalf after someone has died as a result of a construction accident in Florida. However, Florida law makes these legal claims complicated. Nearly all business construction employers are required to obtain workers’ compensation insurance in order to cover employees who are injured while on the job. Regardless of fault, an employee may obtain compensation for lost wages and medical bills following an injury. Therefore, an employee is not required to establish negligence in order to receive compensation. In lieu of paying for a premium on workers’ compensation insurance, employees give up the right to file a lawsuit after a workplace incident.
Even when a construction employee dies as a result of a workplace incident, the worker’s dependent relatives are covered and may receive death benefits. Based on Florida law, the amount is capped at no more than two-thirds of the worker’s average weekly wage or $150,000 total. Workers’ compensation will also cover funeral and burial expenses of up to $7,500. Exceptions to the cases that are subject to the limits established by workers’ compensation are rare but do occur. If the employer was particularly negligent and knowingly allowed for the employee to work in dangerous conditions there could be a possibility of filing a personal injury legal claim. Such wrongful death lawsuits are often based on the legal theory of “negligence.” The plaintiff will have to prove four basic elements to win a wrongful death lawsuit:
- The defendant had a duty of care. In other words, the defendant had a legal obligation to prevent your loved one from being killed by acting reasonably.
- The defendant breached this duty of care and did not behave as reasonably as another would in similar circumstances.
- The breach of duty caused the death of the victim.
- The plaintiff must establish that the death resulted in damages to the victim’s family.
Additionally, if the victim is not an employee but a civilian, such as the motorists who were killed in the Pedestrian Bridge Collapse in Miami, Florida in 2018. Five motorists and one employee were killed, and another employee became permanently disabled when the bridge fell on top of motorists waiting at a red light, crushing their vehicles with over 900 tons of concrete and metal.
In this case, workers’ compensation does not apply to the motorists who were waiting at the red led and a personal injury claim would be applicable. In other situations, a family may also have a claim that a construction product was defective and contributed to the accident that caused a loved one’s death. This claim could be about various products and machinery at the worksite. It is critical that a family member who has lost a loved one in a construction accident contact an experienced Clayton Trial Attorney for the best advice regarding any wrongful death claim involving a construction incident.