Contractor Negligence and Construction Injuries

Construction workers and architects viewed from above
Construction workers and architects viewed from above
Construction workers and architects at a construction site viewed from above.

On March 15, 2018, a pedestrian bridge under construction in Florida collapsed killing one employee, permanently disabling another, and causing fatal injuries to five motorists who were traveling underneath. The bridge was strategically constructed on Florida International University’s campus to facilitate accessibility for students who walked to the campus from the adjourning city. The project was set to be complete by February 2019.

Shortly after the gruesome incident, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) lead a thorough investigation, reviewing the bridge design plans, documents, and photographs, examining the failed structural components of the bridge, and conducting multiple interviews of employees. They found that immediately before the bridge crumbled, the construction consisted of a single concrete support beam spanning 174 feet in length and weighing about 930 tons — a supporting structure that varied significantly from the approved and original design plan. They also found that multiple engineers from various construction companies and sub-contractors had failed to recognize that the bridge was in danger of collapsing when it was inspected just hours before the fall.

Shortly into the pedestrian bridge construction, the single concrete truss had developed multiple deep and wide fractures, compromising the bridge’s strength and integrity. The cracks on the bridge occurred due to deficient structural design; and day by day, they increased in size. The magnitude of the cracks warranted that the street below with a traffic light hanging under the bridge be immediately closed, however, this concern was dismissed. Furthermore, the size of the bridge warranted that during the intermediate stages of construction, the structural design of the main truss be examined by an independent and specialized engineer. However, this too, OSHA found, never happened.

Unlike the 2017 I-85 bridge collapse that took place in Atlanta, this Florida pedestrian bridge fell largely in part due to miscalculation and negligence. Contractors were advised to take precautions and saw visible signs of structural flaws that could potentially jeopardize the bridge and the innocent lives of bystanders. Unfortunately, many workers turned a blind eye to the cracks and growing fissures that ran along the concrete structure which eventually came crumbling down killing six individuals.

On-the-Job Construction Injuries

In a different case, a sub-contractor who worked for Winter Construction Company fell to his death from a worksite at Benjamin E. Mays High School in Atlanta, Georgia. Carlos Garcia, 31, was on the second-floor of the construction site on June 25, 2011, when a loose metal pipe fell from the ceiling, striking Garcia’s lift and causing him to fall 20 feet.

Injuries like Garcia’s is unfortunately all too common, especially when you work in the construction industry. According to OSHA, 4,836 workers were killed on a job-site in 2015, averaging to approximately 93 deaths a week. The leading cause of construction-related deaths are due to falling, being struck by an object, electrocutions, and getting caught-in or caught in-between objects. Many of these injuries sustained by either workers or non-workers can be avoided if proper safety guidelines and instructions are followed and preventive measures are put in place.

What is Contractor Negligence?

As with many construction projects, there are multiple parties involved and names documented in contracts for job-sites. Each party may be responsible for a specific task and consulted concerning the method of construction or the materials used. Contracts generally also contain clauses that ensure that materials used for the building and the workmanship will be free from any defects — that they will be properly and thoroughly inspected. Builders can be held liable in a court of law if they are responsible for defective work.

Contractor negligence is when a poorly constructed building, bridge, or object causes injuries to workers or by-standers. As a result, the  individuals in charge of overseeing the construction can face a lawsuit due to negligent construction. For example, if a 20-floor apartment complex collapses just a few short months after its opening, there could be many lawsuits filed as a result of injuries sustained by tenants. The parties liable could be the building owner, the general and or subcontractor, the design architects, and engineers. To minimize the risk of workplace injuries to both workers and non-workers, it is crucial for all of the parties involved in the construction to communicate effectively and collaborate on ensuring safety standards are being met.

A Gwinnett County, Georgia jury recently decided that an improperly installed window was responsible for the death of independent contractor, Wade Blackwell. Blackwell was asked to give the building owner a quote for the cost of replacing trim around an attic window. Blackwell was inspecting the trim when he tried to close a window sash. The sash fell out of its frame, causing Blackwell to fall to his death.

The jury determined that the window installer had failed to follow basic safety procedures to secure the window sash in place. While it was unclear whether Blackwell was pushing on the sash or fell into it, the judge rejected the installer’s suggestion that it was essential to know what Blackwell was doing when he fell. Under either scenario, the fact that the sash came loose from its frame was due to faulty installation, making the installer’s negligence a contributing cause of Blackwell’s death.

Negligent Construction Claims

Inorder to file a claim for negligent construction, one has to prove that the builder or designer violated the applicable standard of care for contractors. In the state of Georgia, the standard of care for contractor is “that degree of care and skill as it is ordinarily employed by other contractors under similar conditions and like circumstances.”

If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of negligent construction there are several questions you should first ask:

  1. Who was responsible for the safety conditions at the construction site?
  2. Did the contractor (if you are a non-worker) or employer (if you are an injured worker) provide any relevant safety training?
  3. Were there any signs posted near or at the construction site?
  4. Was there an obvious risk of danger?
  5. Have any other workers at this construction site also been injured?
  6. Were any OSHA standards violated?

If there was a clear breach of the standard of care for a contractor which lead to your injury, you may be entitled to claim lost wages or compensation for medical bills and pain and suffering. Talk to the experienced attorneys at Butler Kahn to learn more about contractor negligence and if you have a case.

Fires Caused by Contractor Negligence

The Gwinnett County case is unusual in that one contractor was injured by a different contractor’s negligence. In most cases, it is the property owner and family members who are injured when contractors are careless.

For example, suppose an electrician mistakenly connects a 120-volt baseboard heater to a 240-volt circuit box, causing the heater to overheat. Suppose the electrician also fails to install the circuit breakers correctly, allowing the overheating to continue and start a fire. While that example might sound farfetched, it is drawn from facts that were established in a trial. In that case, a 12-year-old boy died due to the electrician’s negligence.

Tens of thousands of fires each year are started by faulty electrical wiring. Electricians are not responsible for all of those fires — sometimes a homeowner doesn’t bring older wiring up to code while other homeowners do work that should be performed by a licensed electrician — but electricians are responsible for a significant percentage of fires that are caused by faulty wiring.

In addition, contractors or handymen may try to cut corners and increase profits by doing their own electrical work instead of subcontracting to a licensed electrician. Handymen may be held accountable for their negligence when they do not hire professionals to do skilled work.

Creating Unsafe Conditions

Contractors should not only make a home attractive and functional, but they should also make a home safe. They fail in that duty when they:

  • Allow newly installed carpeting to lay loose on the floor, creating a tripping hazard
  • Fail to anchor handrails securely to a stairway wall
  • Install smoke detectors that do not operate
  • Drop tools or equipment from a ladder or roof onto a homeowner
  • Leave equipment or debris in places that cause homeowners to trip and fall
  • Install suction drains in swimming pools that trap children underwater
  • Use nail guns and other dangerous tools carelessly
  • Fail to warn homeowners of hidden hazards (such as a thin sheet of plywood covering a hole in the floor)
  • Neglect to tighten gas lines in stoves and dryers

Any of those failures that result from carelessness to follow ordinary standards will make a contractor responsible for resulting injuries.

Failure to Supervise Employees

In some cases, a contractor’s employee may cause a deliberate injury. An employee who sexually assaults a homeowner or who punches a homeowner in response to criticism about work performance may create liability for the contractor who hired the employee.

Contractors have a duty to use reasonable care before hiring an employee. Reasonable care may include, for example, checking an employee’s criminal record or making sure that the employee is not listed on a sex offender registry. When a background check could have identified an employee who places homeowners at risk, the failure to conduct that check might be negligent.

Contractors have a similar duty to exercise care when they decide whether to retain employees. If an employee has demonstrated a hot temper in the past, continuing to assign that employee to jobs may be an act of negligence.

Finally, contractors have a duty to supervise their employees. If a contractor sees dangerous behavior and fails to correct it, or has reason to suspect that an employee might harm a customer and does nothing to prevent the harm, the contactor can be held liable for any ensuing injury that the employee causes.

Compensation for Injuries

The jury in the Gwinnett County case awarded a verdict to Blackwell’s estate of $17.9 million in wrongful death damages. The amount of compensation that an injury victim will receive depends on multiple factors, including the nature of the harm and the circumstances under which it occurs. An experienced personal injury lawyer can evaluate your case and, after learning the relevant facts, can give you a ballpark estimate of the compensation you might receive for injuries caused by contractors.

Picture of Matt Kahn
Matt Kahn is an Atlanta personal injury lawyer and a partner at the law firm Butler Kahn. Matt has dedicated his career to fighting for individuals and families who had been harmed by the negligence of others. At Butler Kahn, he has had the honor of helping families who have lost children in motor vehicle accidents and people who were critically injured. He helped a family secure a $45 million settlement to provide lifetime care for their son, who was critically injured in a motorcycle accident. Matt is a graduate of Emory University School of Law and has been recognized as a Super Lawyers’ Rising Star and by Best Lawyers as One to Watch. He has received an Avvo 10.0 Top Attorney rating. Connect with me on LinkedIn
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