Construction is a dangerous industry. In 2011, 17.6 percent of all fatal workplace accidents occurred in positions in the construction industry. Falls, electrocution, and blunt force injuries are all threats on the job site. When an injury occurs on the job, workers will often be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. However, there are many situations in which victims will wish to file a third party claim.
What is a Third Party Claim?
As the name suggests, a third party claim is a claim against a third party. In a third party claim, victims make a claim against another entity, alleging that they were responsible for the injury. Third party claims are available to injured victims in a number of situations, where the third party was negligent or strictly liable for the injury.
Negligence and Third Parties
Negligence is a tort, or a wrongful act resulting in legal liability. Negligence occurs when a party breaches a duty of care owed to another party and where that breach is both the actual cause and proximate cause of the injury. Parties owe a number of duties to one another, including duties assumed expressly or otherwise; generally, parties have a duty to act as a reasonable person with their levels of skill and knowledge would if similarly situated.
This reasonable person standard is nebulous and includes a wide variety of conduct. On a construction site, it may include failing to check the area before moving heavy equipment or reconnecting a power source before ensuring that everyone is clear of any potential hazards. Failing to live up to the reasonable person standard or fulfill other duties will result in a breach of that duty.
Additionally, there must be a causative link between the breach and the injury. The type of injury must be reasonably foreseeable from the breach. Intervening events may supersede the originally negligent act and absolve the negligent actor of liability, placing it on another party. A successful claim for negligence will result in an award of damages.
Defendants may defend against a claim for negligence by claiming that the other party was also negligent. New York uses a pure comparative fault rule where plaintiffs can recover even if they are primarily at fault for the injury. A court judge or construction accident lawyer New York based will counsel that these damages awarded in such a case will be reduced by the amount of the plaintiff’s negligence.
Strict Liability and Third Parties
In the State of New York, concept related to negligence may be found in the area of products liability. Under Codling v. Paglia, 32 N.Y.2d 330 (1973), entities are strictly liable for products that they sell provided that the product was defective when it left the defendant’s hands and when that specific defect constituted a “substantial factor” in causing the injury when the product was being used in a reasonably foreseeable manner.
Product defects may include manufacturing defects, design defects, and marketing defects. Manufacturing defects occur when the product differs from its intended design. Design defects occur when the design made the product dangerous and where there was an economically feasible alternative design available at the time that the product was designed. Marketing defects are failure to label or otherwise warn users about reasonably foreseeable dangers posed by the product.
Strict liability differs from conventional tort claims in that proving negligence is unnecessary. Plaintiffs who can prove that a manufacturer put a defective product into the marketplace may prove negligence with relatively little effort, but proving that a retailer was negligent in not inspecting every unit will be too high a burden in most cases. Simply proving the aforementioned factors will render the supply chain jointly and severally liable for the damages, although the plaintiff’s award may be reduced if he or she failed to exercise reasonable caution in using the product or could have discovered the defect through reasonable caution and circumspection.
Strict liability may also be found in other areas related to construction. Entities engaged in abnormally dangerous activities are automatically liable for any damage that is caused by that activity. Courts typically find that blasting, demolition and pile driving are abnormally dangerous activities. A victim injured by a subcontractor or other third party engaged in such activities while at work may file a third party claim against that party even if he or she was not negligent. Other activities, like window washing, may also result in strict liability being imposed on certain parties.
Why File a Third Party Claim?
Employers are required to cover employees under New York’s workers’ compensation law. However, workers’ compensation is significantly limited in scope. In New York, claimants are limited to 2/3 of their lost income multiplied by the percentage to which they are disabled. Direct medical expenses are fully covered. Limited death benefits and supplemental benefits are also available. Total compensation for lost income and compensation for other damages is unavailable.
Filing a third party claim makes victims eligible to receive compensation, with the help of a local experienced accident lawyer, for pain and suffering, mental anguish, and other damages. Plaintiffs may recover the full amount of their lost income and possibly other forms of compensation such as the cost of modifying one’s home for disability access. Punitive damages may also be available. These damages greatly exceed the relatively meager benefits offered by workers’ compensation. For victims of workplace injuries, this may be the difference between being able to stay in one’s home and facing severe financial difficulties.
A secondary reason to file a third party claim is to deter future wrongful conduct. Negligent actors who are not punished have no incentive to change their habits. The next person injured by a careless equipment operator or manufacturer may be killed. By ensuring that negligence is not tolerated, victims can improve the safety of their workplaces and society as a whole.
Legal counsel will be invaluable in the event of any workplace injury, whether from a construction accident lawyer New York or San Francisco based. Consulting with an experienced local attorney allows victims to discuss their options for filing claims against third parties or their own employers. If no cause of action exists, legal counsel can assist claimants in applying for workers’ compensation and possibly Social Security disability benefits. Such processes are rife with their own issues, including under-reported injuries and wrongful denials. Those who suffer an injury at work should seek legal counsel as soon as possible.