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Wrongful Death In America's Most Dangerous Industry

According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), 796 construction workers died or were fatally injured on the job site in 2013. Long considered one of the nation's most dangerous industries, construction work was responsible for one of out every five deaths in the workplace.

Construction site

Losing a family member, a loved one, a spouse or a child is without a doubt life's most difficult challenge. The love, emotional support, and simple pleasures of living with those we have chosen are ripped from us. Sometimes this happens in an instant, in one traumatic accident, and sometimes the loss is felt over a long, painful period of time, as in cases of chronic occupational illness.

Can I Sue After My Loved One's Death?

In any case, the death of a loved one can leave us both emotionally and financially bereft.

In limited circumstances, New York State allows immediate family members to file a wrongful death lawsuit after fatal construction accidents. And while no amount of money can alleviate the trauma of a loved one's loss, recovering monetary damages may go some way to lay a stable foundation for this inner recovery to take place.

New York State is governed by a workers' compensation program, and most of the money offered to survivors of a deceased worker are paid out through insurance claims. In fact, workers comp restricts your ability to sue your loved one's employer, even if their negligence led to the fatal accident.

Wrongful death lawsuits, on the other hand, may be filed against "third-parties," architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, and property owners - anyone not covered by the workers' comp insurance purchased directly by your loved one's employer.

But unlike many states, New York's progressive labor laws create several gaps in the protection from lawsuits that employers generally enjoy.

What's Different About Construction In New York?

Falls are the leading cause of death in the construction industry and account for around 37% of all job site fatalities.

New York Labor Laws 240 and 241, commonly called the "Scaffold" or "Ladder" law, switch the burden of responsibility from workers comp and insurance carriers to employers in accidents involving scaffolding, ropes, pulleys, hoists, ladders, and other equipment that allows construction employees to work at elevation.

This law is controversial, and while some courts have interpreted it as placing "strict" or "absolute" liability on employers, others have not. If "strict" liability is in place, it is not necessary to prove that an employer was negligent to win a lawsuit. If not, it must be proved that the elevated structure was improperly designed, constructed, or maintained, and that defect led to your loved one's death. But in either case, lawsuits involving elevation on a construction site are generally viable in New York.

Who Can File A Wrongful Death Claim?

In most states, wrongful death lawsuits are filed by survivors who can prove they had a significant relationship with the victim. In court, in formal legal terms, they act as representatives of the deceased's estate, and the lawsuit will be governed by a set of statutes known as the New York Estates, Powers and Trust Laws. These laws allow the estate's representative to claim "pecuniary losses" after the decedent's loss. "Pecuniary" simply means that the losses you claim must be translated into monetary terms.

But how is a "significant relationship" defined in New York State?

If no spouse, children, or grandchildren are able to file the claim, an adult decedent's parents may be able to, although this is regularly disputed in court. With an experienced lawyer, you may be able to argue this point, essentially proving that you were financially dependent on your loved one, and are now left at a disadvantage in the wake of their loss.

Statute Of Limitations

Surprisingly, the statute of limitations governing wrongful death claims in New York State is less, not more, lenient than others. You have exactly two years after the date of your loved one's fatal accident to file suit against the parties you believe responsible.

How Much Is A Wrongful Death Case Worth?

Before conducting a thorough investigation, it's impossible for us to tell you how much your case may be worth. But because wrongful death suits are covered by statutes that only recognize "pecuniary," or monetary losses, it's important to cover the types of damages you may be able to claim.

Construction Accident Wrongful Death Verdicts & Settlements

In the past, Banville Law's construction accident attorneys have recovered several large verdicts and settlements in wrongful death cases. Before reading, it's important to note that our past successes in no way guarantee results in your case.

We secured $5 million for the survivors of a contractor who died after falling four stories. Our wrongful death lawyers were able to prove that the worker was never afforded fall protection, and that their employer was thus liable under New York's Labor Laws 240 and 241.

In another case, we recovered $2.5 million for the family of an electrician who was fatally electrocuted. We proved that electrical switchgear malfunctioned, causing the accident, and held the negligent property owner accountable.

See a related story on an Investigation Launched At Hospital After Woman Dies In The ER.

Laurence P. Banville
Date Published: December 10, 2014
Laurence P. Banville is the managing partner of Banville Law. As an experienced personal injury attorney, Mr. Banville helps clients recover compensation from those responsible for his clients' injuries. Our firm is located in New York City, serving clients from the five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island.
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