With all the activity, all the heavy equipment, all the multi-tasking, and all the people on construction sites, accidents are, unfortunately, inevitable. If you are a subcontractor (or a sub-subcontractor or a sub-sub-subcontractor) who has been injured while working at a construction site, you likely have questions about who is liable for your injury. The answer, of course, depends on the circumstances of your case. While a skilled personal injury attorney with experience in construction accidents involving subcontractors will be your best source of information, this article identifies some fundamental concepts related to subcontractors and construction site accidents.
For an assessment of your case, call the attorneys at Glugeth & Pierguidi, P.C. Contractors and subcontractors come and go with some frequency at construction sites. It’s important to talk to an attorney about the circumstances of what or who caused your injury as soon as you are able.
Understanding Liability in New Jersey Construction Accidents
Under New Jersey law, several distinct parties might be liable for injuries sustained in a construction site accident. These parties could be solely responsible or jointly liable with another party. The parties might include the main contractor, the property owner, the architect, another subcontractor, another sub-subcontractor, an equipment manufacturer, or a materials manufacturer. Just as every party plays a part in maintaining safety, each party also faces potential liability if they neglect to play that part.
General Contractor’s Liability
The general contractor, as the entity responsible for overseeing the project, is also generally deemed to be the entity responsible for the overall safety of the construction site. Accordingly, they must ensure that working conditions meet the safety standards of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and any other relevant local, state, and federal regulations. If you sustained an injury due to their failure in these duties, the general contractor could be liable.
Property Owner’s Role
The property owner may also have some liability. This is especially so if a hazardous condition on the property caused your injury, they knew about the hazardous condition, and they neglected to fix the hazardous condition. In New Jersey, property owners must maintain safe premises for all visitors. This includes construction workers.
Under New Jersey product liability laws, if faulty equipment, an inadequate safety feature, or a malfunctioning safety mechanism caused your accident, then whoever manufactured that equipment might be liable for that injury. Depending on the circumstances of your case, whoever sold, rented, delivered, or was trained to work on that piece of equipment might also be liable.
If any other subcontractor working on the same project caused your injury, they could face liability. Even if they did not cause the accident or were not on the site when you were injured, they could be liable if they contributed in any way to creating the unsafe conditions that caused your injury. This is also true of sub-subcontractors and sub-sub-subcontractors and so on. Additionally, the subcontractor who hired any additional subs could be liable for the negligence of those subs.
Similarly, New Jersey recognizes several different legal bases for liability. If you were injured on the job, it’s likely you will be eligible for workers’ compensation. But depending on what happened to you and who was responsible, you may be able to pursue a personal injury lawsuit.
New Jersey companies are required to participate in and contribute to workers’ compensation. Workers’ compensation in New Jersey is like no-fault insurance, and injured employees can recover benefits no matter who is at fault. However, benefits tend to be limited to medical bills and lost wages. While New Jersey has a broad definition of employee, if you are not covered under workers’ compensation or if someone besides your employer caused your injuries, you will want to explore a personal injury claim to obtain your deserved compensation.
In New Jersey, personal injury liability is usually based on negligence. To prove that someone is liable for your construction injury, you and your construction accident lawyer will need to prove:
- Someone had a duty to make sure things were safe;
- They breached that duty by failing to act like a reasonable person would;
- That breach caused your injury; and
- Your injury has caused or created damages.
Key to negligence is another party’s failure to adhere to accepted standards of conduct. While accidents can and do happen, when someone is injured because someone else failed to act or acted carelessly, the law needs to hold the negligent actor accountable.
In situations that are especially or inherently dangerous, courts may apply a strict liability standard. Unlike with negligence, where a plaintiff needs to prove that a defendant’s action or failure to act was unreasonable, with strict liability, the plaintiff need only prove that the accident happened. For example, if you were injured while someone was using explosives or hazardous materials, the court may impose strict liability. Likewise, if you were injured by a product defect, the manufacturer may be held strictly liable. The court is saying that the actions of the defendant are not important; the fact that the injury happened means they can be held accountable.
Comparative Negligence in New Jersey
New Jersey follows a modified version of the comparative negligence rule. This means that you can still recover damages from a party liable for your injuries even if you were partly responsible for your injuries, but your compensation will be reduced by your percentage of fault. In New Jersey, you can collect for damages if it is determined that you were less than 51% responsible for your injury. For example, if you have $1,000,000 in damages and a jury finds that you were 25% at fault but the general contractor was 75% at fault, you will recover $750,000 from the general contractor. If the jury finds that you were 55% at fault, you will recover nothing.
Most of the time, the jury in a civil trial will determine who is negligent and attribute proportions of negligence. This is also something to keep in mind during settlement negotiations.
Steps to Take After an Accident
If you have been in a construction accident, you should take the following steps:
- Get medical attention. Get necessary medical help immediately, even if you think your injuries are minor. Follow the instructions of the doctor or medical professional.
- Report the accident. Tell your supervisor about the incident. Depending on the circumstances, you may also need to tell your employer, the subcontractor, or the general contractor.
- Document everything. Take photos of the accident scene and your injuries. Get the names and contact information of any witnesses who saw the accident.
- Save everything. Keep everything related to the accident and the job. This includes medical reports, your bills when you are unable to work, any communication about the accident, pay stubs, work agreements, and timesheets.
- Call a construction accident lawyer. To help you navigate your claim, it’s important to have an attorney with experience representing people injured in construction accidents involving subcontractors. They can help you understand your options and identify who is responsible for your injuries.
Following these steps is essential for maintaining your physical well-being and your legal footing.
The Importance of Legal Assistance
Whether you’re pursuing a workers’ compensation claim, a personal injury claim, or both, it’s essential to have a knowledgeable attorney on your side. We can help you gather evidence, prepare your case, and, if necessary, take your case all the way to trial.
The attorneys at Glugeth & Pierguidi know how to do this. Just as importantly, we know how to listen to you and give you the support you will need during what can be a very challenging time. We know that construction sites come with risks; we also know that laws exist to protect subcontractors and get them the compensation they deserve. Being injured in a construction accident can have devastating effects on you and your family. The law provides a blueprint for how you can receive compensation for your losses and for the disruption in your life. The attorneys at Glugeth & Pierguidi, P.C. aim to achieve fairness, justice, and the maximum compensation you deserve for your injuries. In fact, our firm has recovered more than $100 million for our clients. Contact our New Jersey office today to schedule a free consultation.