While construction accident injuries and deaths can always be attributed to a specific event that occurred on site, finding liability or “blame” may be trickier than it seems. Sometimes it is up to the courts to decide.
A clear case of criminal negligence, or so it seemed
One fatal New York City accident serves as a good example of how negligence can be attributed. In early April of 2015, undocumented laborer Carlos Moncayo was working on the foundation of a new building site in the Meatpacking District on Manhattan’s lower west side when a 13-foot trench collapsed, killing him. Prior to the collapse, city and federal inspectors had determined the walls had not been properly supported to meet OSHA requirements. Under New York law, contractors and supervisors may be held criminally negligent for ordering workers to ignore or violate inspection orders.
As might be expected after the death, the construction company was charged with several offenses related to negligent homicide, and the case proceeded to trial. Most people hearing or reading this story would agree that the jury got things right by handing down guilty verdicts on all counts.
But not so fast
It turns out that Mr. Moncayo’s death is really more than a story about negligence on the part of the employer, Harco Construction LLC. His death highlights an ongoing dispute between workers’ unions in New York and contractors who hire undocumented workers, despite what state and federal laws say. Union leaders have been arguing for years that construction sites often fail to meet safety standards when contractors hire undocumented and nonunion employees, knowing that the workers have no choice but to obey their supervisors’ orders.
Union leaders and advocates point to hard statistics showing the correlation between the increasing numbers of serious injuries and deaths on construction sites and the increase in the hiring of undocumented, non-union workers.
The problem will continue to get worse
As an opinion article in the New York Times made clear, the problem goes deeper than a series of random accidents: “We are in the midst of a public health epidemic brought on by inadequate safety regulations and public inattention. Construction-safety lapses happen because it pays for companies to run the risk of letting them happen.”
Get the legal help you are entitled to
Many construction employers will do everything they can to cut corners and save costs. Don’t expect them to step up if you or a loved one suffers an injury on the job. In many cases, the developer, contractor or others working on the site may have acted negligently.
It is important to discuss the circumstances of your case with an experienced construction accident attorney. Most such attorneys offer a consultation that is both free and confidential.