Accidents happen at construction sites, but when an accident involves heavy vehicles and machines, it can be life-threatening. When a construction vehicle accident results in an injury, who is responsible?
On the Road
Unless there is a crew actively working on the street, construction vehicles shouldn’t be used on the road as a mode of transportation. If you happened to be hurt by someone who was using a construction vehicle to drive, chances are they can be held liable for your injuries.
On the Job Site
The majority of construction vehicle-related injuries take place at work. The responsibility for the injury depends on the details of the accident. Was the machine itself defective? Did the employer allow for an unsafe environment? Was a fellow worker negligent in their behavior? Let’s take a look at those possibilities.
If you were injured because a construction vehicle was faulty, it may be the responsibility of the manufacturer. Vehicle recalls are a big deal in the U.S. If vehicle makers know of dangerous defects in their product, they can face heavy fines. Consult a good lawyer who can do research into the make and model of the machine. They could find that there have been similar complaints against that vehicle, and it may be necessary to hold the manufacturer accountable.
Construction is a dangerous job, and employers have a responsibility to keep their workers safe. A certain degree of accidents is unavoidable when you’re dealing with heavy materials and sharp objects, but a good manager is looking at the bigger picture of how to protect their employees.
First off, there should be order on the site. If you have people driving and wandering around with no one assigned to designated stations, injuries are almost inevitable. If you were hit by a bulldozer because no one was assigning a clear area for machines vs. workers, that’s the fault of the company.
The company needs to make sure that only trained professionals are operating dangerous vehicles. When they put the untrained new guy in charge of the equipment and someone gets hurt, that’s negligence on the part of the employer.
Upkeep of vehicles is the responsibility of the vehicle’s owner. If your employer owns the machines, and the vehicles wear down and cause an injury, your employer’s negligence is responsible for that injury.
When the machine itself causes an injury, it’s helpful to have a good lawyer on your side. Sometimes the responsibility gets fuzzy. Maybe your employer rents the machines from another company. If the rental company rented out faulty equipment, they are the responsible parties. However, your employer could be responsible for the vehicle if they had it for a long time and didn’t report any problems to the rental company.
Vague chains of responsibility are intentional when large corporations are involved. They want to shield themselves from as much liability as they can. Make sure to contact an aggressive lawyer who will investigate the parties responsible and go after them for damages.
Fellow Worker Responsibility
Maybe the vehicle was fine, and your employer did everything right. Maybe another worker was just being negligent. They were driving the bulldozer recklessly; they were swinging the crane around too fast without looking; or, heaven forbid, they were drunk on the job and hit someone with the lift. It’s hard to sue a fellow worker. However, when you’ve been hurt through no fault of your own and the bills are piling up, suing may be necessary.
Comparative Negligence in Arizona
Arizona’s personal injury law operates on a system of “comparative negligence.” In this structure, courts hear both sides of the argument and determine a percentage of fault for everyone involved. For instance, imagine a worker was in an area where he shouldn’t have been, and a crane operator was swinging the arm right at that moment. The worker was hit in the head with a crane claw and suffered a concussion.
The worker sues his employer for negligence. The court, however, believes that he would not have been injured if he hadn’t wandered into the wrong area. The crane operator had no reason to be on the lookout for workers in that particular area, the court argues. The court determines that, even though he was injured, the worker was 65% at fault for the accident.
In Arizona, the plaintiff (the person suing for a personal injury) can be given a percentage of the total compensation based on their level of fault. So, the worker in our story gets 35% of the total damages since he was 65% at fault for the accident. Arizona is one of just a handful of states that operates with this kind of “pure” comparative negligence. Even if a plaintiff is 99% responsible for their injuries, they can receive 1% of the total reward determined by the court.
Employer’s Defenses Against Negligence
Companies – especially big, corporate companies – are going to do whatever they can to protect themselves from lawsuits. Here are some tactics they may use to defend themselves in court.
Don’t be surprised when an employer tries to blame you for the accident. It’s a common defense, and with Arizona’s comparative negligence laws, it’s almost a certainty. They want to give you as little money as they can, and they will probably try to make you the bad guy. Make sure you have a lawyer who won’t back down and who will keep the facts straight.
Let’s be clear, workers’ comp is a positive thing. Especially in a high-risk job like construction, it’s good to know that your employer is paying for insurance when accidents happen. Like any other company, however, insurance companies are going to look for excuses to withhold payments. Initial applications are often denied, which leads to a hearing when you need to fight back. All the while, you’re still missing work, and the medical expenses are compounding.
Furthermore, once you’ve filed for workers’ comp, it’s going to be much harder to sue your construction employer. They are going to make the case that you already received compensation and try to block you out of further damages.
Before you file for workers’ compensation, no matter how minor the injuries, it is recommended that you seek a lawyer. At the very least, they can go over your application. They can help you fill it out in a way that will likely yield the best results. At most, a lawyer can advise you on how to apply for workers’ comp while still building a strong case for a lawsuit.
Another common defense for employers is called “assumed risk.” This means that they believe a job is inherently dangerous, and employees assumed the risk of that danger when they chose to work there. That is true to an extent. There’s a reason why you’re wearing safety helmets and big boots on the job. However, assumed risk is no excuse for a dangerous work environment. A good lawyer can demonstrate how a work site is especially dangerous and negligent, and how the company is responsible for injuries despite any other obvious risks involved.
If a construction vehicle hurt you at work, contact us before you take any action. We will give you a free consultation and help guide you in what to do next. We can be reached online or at (602) 483-6114.