There are many ways a worker or passerby can be injured by falling objects at a construction site. Liability for the injury depends on the details of the accident.
Construction sites are, by their very nature, dangerous. Construction sites are often in the middle of cities, with little separating them from the lives of pedestrians on the surrounding sidewalks. Seemingly minor mistakes at construction sites can lead to major injuries to construction workers and pedestrians. Those injuries often lead to lawsuits against construction companies. In the sections that follow, we will identify some common mistakes that lead to injuries caused by falling objects at construction sites, and discuss what a resulting legal claim might look like.
What Kinds of Construction Mistakes Cause Falling Debris?
The number of possible mistakes that can lead to falling debris injuries is infinite, but below are a few of the most common examples:
Pedestrians should be kept at a sufficient distance from a construction site so as to prevent injuries from falling objects. Anyone close enough to a construction site to be within the range of falling debris should wear a hard hat. Since all pedestrians casually walking near a construction site cannot be expected to don a hard hat, pedestrians should not be allowed anywhere near zones where debris might fall.
At times, people might not realize that construction is occurring and that a risk of falling objects is present. All access points to construction sites should be accompanied by clearly visible signs instructing everyone on the site to don a hard hat.
Failing to inspect equipment
Debris can fall when the hooks, cords and other devices used to secure objects to cranes, hoists and other objects became old and weak. These devices should be inspected regularly for wear and tear. Any equipment that exhibits any flaws should be replaced immediately.
Failing to secure tools and other equipment
Tools are commonly the culprits of falling-object injuries. Because tools must frequently be moved around a construction site, they are often left unsecured. But any time workers are working above an area where people may be walking, all tools should be secured to prevent their falling on other people.
Personal Injury Cases Resulting From Objects at a Construction Site
Either a construction worker or a pedestrian may be able to sue the construction company for injuries resulting from falling debris. Most injuries to construction workers will be covered by workers compensation, so the rules discussed below will usually only apply to cases brought by pedestrians and other non-employees.
In order to win a personal injury lawsuit for harm caused by falling debris, an injured person must prove three elements:
- that the defendant had a duty to keep a construction site safe
- that the defendant breached that duty, and
- that the breach caused harm.
Duty to Keep a Construction Zone Safe
Someone is always responsible for the safety of a construction site. The question of who is responsible is often contentious in this type of lawsuit. A general contractor, several subcontractors and an owner may all accuse one another of having ultimate responsibility for safety at the site. Usually, the issue is a matter of contract law. So, the answer will depend on the language of the contracts that were signed among the parties.
Another issue that arises is, “what constitutes a ‘safe’ construction site?” This question can become extremely complicated. The short answer is that if an object falls on the head of another person, injuring them, there is probably some condition at the site that could have (and should have) been made more safe. But laws are not that simple. To use the legal parlance, there is a duty to keep the construction site in a reasonably safe condition, based on the level of safety that other reasonable construction companies would exhibit. Different courts interpret that standard differently.
Breach of the Duty
Any failure by a construction company to keep a construction site reasonably safe is a breach of the duty discussed above. For example, if a construction company had a duty to keep pedestrians at least 20 yards from a potential landing zone for debris, but the company failed to provide at least that amount of separation, the company breached its duty of care and acted negligently. If the company’s negligence caused harm to a pedestrian, the company might be liable for the harm.
Harm Caused by the Breach
In personal injury cases the most common types of damages include:
- medical expenses
- lost wages (for time missed from work due to the injury)
- pain and suffering, and
- loss of normal life (the decreased quality of a person’s life as a result of the injury).
It is critical for the injured person to prove that the negligence actually caused the harm. For example, imagine a pedestrian proves in court that a construction company allowed pedestrians to walk too close to falling debris. But the pedestrian was injured when she tripped over a pothole in the sidewalk near the construction site. The pothole was unrelated to the construction.
In such a case, the construction company was probably negligent (by allowing pedestrians to walk too close to the site), and the plaintiff suffered harm (injuries associated with tripping over the pot-hole). But the negligence did not actually cause the harm. Thus, the pedestrian would probably not be able to sue the construction company for the injury.