Washington State Construction Site Accident Claims
While the dramatic nature of a construction site injury can make it difficult to consider such a thing happening at your workplace, let alone to you personally, the reality of the situation is important to understand. Should such an event impact you and your livelihood, it’s important to have the right information and legal counsel to confront the situation.
What Is Considered A Construction Site Injury?
Work-related injuries and illnesses are unfortunately common occurrences in the construction industry, with injuries occurring at a higher-than-average rate for construction workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nonfatal construction site injuries and illnesses that were caused by trips, slips, or falls alone had a rate of 31.4 per 10,000 full-time workers in 2020, while the average rate of private companies across all industries was 21.7 per 10,000.
The four most common types of injuries reported on construction sites, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), were falls, individuals being struck by objects, machinery, or vehicles, individuals getting pinned or stuck between objects, and electrocutions.
Physical And Emotional Consequences Of A Construction Work Injury
A wide variety of activities occur at a construction site, using large machinery, a great deal of energy, and hazardous materials. Because of these dangers, much of what happens on a construction site has the potential to cause bodily and mental harm should something go wrong.
The most common types of physical injury that construction workers experience are tears, strains, and sprains. Though they often receive less attention than more visible injuries, these can be just as serious and should receive treatment as soon as possible to keep them from getting worse. Cuts and punctures are also fairly common, owing to the types of equipment and materials in use at a construction site.
Other construction work injuries can include
- Bone fractures
- Repetitive stress injuries
- Eye injuries
- Illnesses caused by exposure to chemicals
- Head or brain injuries
- Neck, spine, or back injuries
- Eye or vision damage
- Contusions and crush injuries
- Nerve damage or paralysis
- Other severe bodily harm
The effects of construction work accidents can also be mental or emotional. Being involved with or witnessing a construction accident can be traumatic, and you are not weak if the event was psychologically taxing for you. Psychological damage is still damage, so if a construction work accident has left you with depression, anxiety, PTSD, or thoughts of suicide, you should get medical treatment, and you might also be entitled to compensation.
If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, please call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or call emergency services at 911 immediately.
Construction Site Injury L&I Claim Or Third-Party Claim
Depending on the details of your injury, you will either have a Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) claim only or an L&I claim in addition to a third-party claim.
L&I Claims In Construction
Since L&I is generally a “no-fault” system, and no one is being sued in the process of an L&I claim, there is no need to prove that any individual is at fault for the injury. In Washington state, any employee who is injured while on the job should file an L&I claim, whether the person who caused them to be hurt was themselves, a coworker, or their employer. An L&I claim is meant to handle the construction workers comp coverage for your injuries, allowing L&I to pay for your medical expenses, regardless of who (if anyone) is technically at fault.
After your injury, you and your doctor will file a “Report of Accident” with the Department of L&I to put the process in motion.
To clarify the types of injuries that would lead to an L&I construction workers’ comp claim, let’s look at some examples.
- Your coworker neglects to clean up their tools and hardware, and sometime later, you walk through the area and step on a nail, which punctures your boot and stabs you in the foot.
- Your employer is behind schedule and asks the team to rush their work. To beat the new deadline, your form starts to get sloppy as you lift a heavy object, and as a result, you throw out your back.
- A coworker on the level above you loses their grip on a tool, which falls and strikes you on the head, causing a concussion.
Each of these situations occurred while on the job. While each was the result of negligence, none of them were intentional, and all people involved were employed by the same organization. Because of those facts, all three of these examples would result in an L&I claim.
Third-Party Claims In Construction
All on-the-job injuries in Washington state result in an L&I construction workers’ comp claim. However, whenever someone outside of your organization is at fault, you will also have a third-party claim. If you are injured while working because of the actions or negligence of someone who is not your coworker or employer, you will have both an L&I claim and a third-party claim.
Third-party claims are a bit more difficult to pursue because they require you to prove fault. Since the third party is being sued for their negligence, the worker who was injured (or their attorney) is required to prove that the third party was at fault for what happened. This requires evidence, so if at all possible, be sure to keep detailed records and take pictures as soon as possible to ensure that you present the best case.
It’s also important to note that third-party claims are not a matter of choice. The nature of your injury and the facts of your case are what determine if you should pursue the claim, not your personal preference. Since L&I paid out for the initial L&I claim, they will be suing the third party for the damage they caused. Since you were the one injured, you can either choose your own lawyer or have L&I use their own lawyer, who you have no control over.
Some examples of injuries that would lead to both an L&I construction workers’ comp claim and a third-party claim:
- Any of the examples above, but if the person at fault for your injury was employed by a different subcontractor.
- A tool you are using malfunctions during normal, recommended use due to a manufacturer defect. The tool overheats and burns your hands and arms.
- The property owner of your work site fails to fix or notify your team of hazardous working conditions on their property, allowing you to get injured. Since each of these situations occurred on the job, they would result in an L&I claim. But since someone outside your organization was at least partially at fault, there would also be a third-party claim.
How Can You File Both An L&I And A Third-Party Claim?
Since L&I claims and third-party claims often go together, injured workers should know that they often need to file both. An L&I claim will be filed with your doctor at your first medical visit regarding the injury. At a later date, if they suspect your case qualifies for a third-party claim, the Department of Labor and Industry will send you a “Third-Party Election Form.” Either you or your lawyer will need to fill out this form and send it back within 60 days of receiving it.
Your third-party claim will pursue the money that L&I was unable to pay, allowing you to get money back for your pain and suffering, lost wages, and medical expenses, and even replace future earnings you may have lost if the injury has left you with less earning potential than before.
Both L&I and third-party claims can pay money, but the payment from L&I is limited. By actively pursuing both an L&I construction workers’ comp claim and a third-party claim, you can ensure that you are fully and adequately compensated for your construction site injury.
Identifying The Responsible Parties
Third-party claims require the injured person to prove negligence to be successful. This can be complicated because there are many different people and organizations that have business on a construction site, and their overlapping duties and responsibilities can place the fault for an injury on one or more of these parties.
Who Is At Fault?
Depending on where the failure occurred and who caused it, the fault could lie with one or more of the following parties.
- Contractor: A contractor is responsible for ensuring a safe workplace for their employees and should run their site in compliance with OSHA and WISHA regulations. Contractors have vicarious liability for any negligence of individuals or organizations they control or delegate to.
- Subcontractor: Like a contractor, subcontractors are required to keep their workplace safe in all matters that relate to the scope and area of their work. Subcontractors are responsible for any hazards occurring in an area of the site that they control.
- Product Manufacturer: Manufacturers must verify that the products they create are adequately tested and inspected, ensuring that normal, safe use of their products does not create an unnecessary danger or toxic chemicals.
- Rental Companies: Much like manufacturers, rental companies are responsible for the maintenance and safe storage of the equipment they rent out. If rental equipment fails under normal use and causes an injury, the rental company could be at fault.
- Landowners: The owner of the worksite is responsible for keeping their property safe and either fixing hazardous conditions or adequately notifying those who work there.
- Other Individuals or Businesses: Many other individuals or businesses that work at the construction site have their own duties and responsibilities. Negligence of those responsibilities can lead to injuries.
The L&I construction workers’ comp claim alone often won’t be enough to cover your expenses after a construction site injury. That’s why, if your case qualifies for a third-party claim, it’s important to take it seriously. Workers may sometimes feel pressure or temptation to end the hassle quickly by taking a quick settlement from the insurance company. However, this usually isn’t the best option because it usually doesn’t pay out enough to be worth the damage that it costs you.
Insurance companies are designed to pay out the minimum amount that they can reasonably play, so when an injury qualifies for a third-party claim, it’s usually in your best interest to hire a good lawyer to help you gather evidence, prove fault, navigate bureaucratic red-tape, and fight to help you recover as much as you legally can from any party whose negligence led to your accident.
How Can You Prove Fault in a Third-Party Claim for a Construction Accident?
Time is of the essence for a construction workers comp case, so it’s important that you act quickly to get your claims in order, gather evidence, and follow reporting procedures. Here is your claim checklist, starting at the moment of your injury.
Get Medical Care
Your immediate priority when injured on a construction site is to get to a doctor for medical care. You might understand that you’ve been injured, but without medical training, you likely don’t know the extent of your injuries or how soon you’ll need treatment, so it’s best to err on the side of caution and allow a medical professional to diagnose and treat your wounds or illness.
File a Report of Accident With Your Doctor To Initiate Your L&I Claim
While you are being treated, you and your doctor will fill out a “Report of Accident,” which your doctor will submit to L&I to begin your claim. The statute of limitations to submit an L&I claim is within one year of the injury or within two years of the onset of any occupational disease; however, it’s in your best interests to get the process started as soon as possible.
Report Your Injury To Your Employer
Report your injury to your employer as soon as you can. Each company will have its own policy of how and when they prefer to be notified of workers comp construction injuries. Still, if you can report the injury to your employer the day it happens, it allows your employer to meet their own reporting requirements. Know that you are not required to see a doctor your employer has recommended, and it’s probably in your best interest to see a different one.
Speak To An Attorney
Once you’ve received medical care, get in contact with an attorney so you can consult with them and review the details of the case. It’s best to do this as soon as possible to ensure that your attorney has the time they need to gather evidence and build the strongest case.
Third-Party Election Form
If L&I determines that your case qualifies for a third-party claim, they will send you a Third-Party Election Form. Within 60 days of receiving this form from L&I, speak with your attorney so they can help you fill it out correctly and send the form back to L&I.
What If My Employer Is At Fault?
In an L&I construction case, you cannot sue your employer for an injury you received while on the job. L&I claims are “no-fault,” so even if your employer was the cause of the accident, there is no lawsuit. The L&I system is meant to cover workman’s compensation scenarios in Washington State and waives your right to sue the employer for a worksite injury.
However, there are certain exceptions where you can sue your employer or coworker.
- Intentional injury: If there is evidence that your employer or coworker knew that their actions or inactions would result in your injury and willfully continued anyway, then you may have a case for intentional injury. This can be difficult to prove.
- Claims that are not mainly about the injury: In cases of wrongful termination violations of employment law (discrimination, harassment, etc.), the case does not fall under L&I’s purview.
- If the injured employee was a temporary employee: Since temporary employees are not technically part of the organization, they would have a third-party claim if negligence on the job site caused their injury.
What Options Are Available For Temporary Workers?
Employees who work for a temporary staffing agency are not employed by the onsite company. For that reason, temporary employees who are injured at work will have the standard two claims:
- An L&I claim against their employer, the temporary staffing agency.
- A third-party claim against any negligent parties who work for the onsite employer.
Product Liability Lawsuits For Construction Injuries
Product manufacturers are responsible for the quality and reliability of the products they produce. If the equipment you are using on a construction site fails and causes an injury while you are using it under the recommended conditions and following safety protocols, this is a critical defect, and the manufacturer could be liable for the injury. Additionally, if equipment or materials expose you or your team to unnecessary levels of toxic chemicals that the manufacturer did not make known, the manufacturer could also be liable. In both of these cases, the manufacturer can be sued as part of a third-party claim.
What Is An Accident Investigation On A Construction Site?
On construction sites where an injury has occurred, several different parties will be coming through to investigate what happened. OSHA, WISHA, and L&I inspectors will each conduct an accident investigation to determine if the site was following safety regulations. Other parties, like insurance companies, private investigators, attorneys of the injured person, and even the employer themselves, should also take a thorough look at the site, interview witnesses, and search out any relevant information to document the accident.
If you’ve had a construction site injury and stand in need of a construction accident attorney in Washington state, contact one of Emery Reddy’s experienced attorneys today for a free consultation about your construction workers’ compensation case!