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Who is responsible for contractor injuries?

Between 2016 and 2017, 55 construction workers received fatal injuries while on the job. The fatality rate was 12.5 deaths per every 100,000 full-time workers, the second-highest rate for all industries in the state, lagging only behind the agriculture, forester, fishing and hunting industry. In 2019, 79,660 construction workers in the U.S. received non-fatal injuries while doing their work.

Small contractor companies had a significantly higher rate of injuries than larger companies, with those employing 11-49 workers having the highest rates. These non-fatal injuries resulted in substantial lost work time. When a contractor is injured, the contractor may incur medical bills, lost wages and other expenses such as rehabilitation costs. In addition, it could severely hamper progress on the job. When the contractor is injured, who is held liable for the injuries?

When the General Contractor Is Liable

In general, contractors are responsible for overall worksite safety. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules legally obligate contractors to establish safety protocols, conduct safety training and provide safety equipment. As such, contractors need to ensure:

  • Surfaces are structurally sound
  • Equipment is in safe operating condition
  • Guardrails or safety nets are installed when work surfaces are higher than 6 feet
  • Personal safety equipment is provided

While contractors must implement safety measures at the worksite, the law also says that workers are obligated to adhere to safety protocols. Contractors who work on their job sites must also follow established protocols to maintain personal safety on the site.

Workers’ Compensation Requirements

Massachusetts’ workers’ compensation laws mandate that every employer has workers’ compensation coverage for all their employees. This requirement extends to general contractors when they are employees of their own companies. The only exceptions that would apply to contractors are when their companies are limited liability corporations that they are members of or sole proprietors.

Employee Definition

The state presumes that anyone who works for a general contractor is an employee (including the contractor) unless the contractor meets the above mentioned exceptions. If you are a general contractor who is also an employee of your company, the state requires you to carry workers’ compensation for yourself. If you get hurt on the job, you should be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

Independent Contractor Definition

If you are a general contractor with independent contractors working for you, you may still be responsible for their on-the-job injuries. When a worker sustains an injury on your worksite, the state assumes you have workers’ compensation to cover that worker. If you consider any workers as independent contractors, you need to be able to show the following clearly:

  • The work they do on your worksite is entirely under their control, with no guidance from you.
  • They perform work that is outside of your usual scope of operations.
  • The workers have established their own trade or independent business doing the kind of work they perform on your worksite.

When workers are injured doing work on your worksite, the state assumes they are your employees. If you submit that they are independent contractors, the state conducts a three-prong test to determine whether they meet all three requirements for an independent contractor. If so, the independent contractor is usually responsible for their own injuries.

However, if the workers do not meet all three standards, the state holds the general contractor responsible. Furthermore, general contractors have an additional concern. Even if workers are independent contractors, they may file a personal injury lawsuit against the general contractor.

Personal Injury Lawsuits

Under Massachusetts’ law, employees generally can’t sue their employers for injuries they receive on the job. Workers’ compensation is designed to provide coverage for workers and protection for employers. However, third-party lawsuits are allowed. If an independent contractor or subcontractor is injured on your worksite, that individual may be able to file a personal injury claim against the general contractor because the worker is not an employee and therefore not covered under the workers’ compensation laws as they apply to your business.

Even if independent contractors or subcontractors carry workers’ compensation insurance for themselves (or their employees in the case of subcontractors), they can still file a third-party claim against the general contractor. Filing a third-party lawsuit offers independent contractors and subcontractors who receive injuries on the job a means of collecting additional compensation.

Construction sites frequently have multiple contractors working on them, making it difficult to determine who is liable for a worksite injury. This is certainly true when the one who is injured is a contractor. A general contractor may even be able to hold a subcontractor responsible for an injury if the subcontractor was negligent and did not provide a safe working environment.

Common Worksite Safety Violations

Construction sites are frequently cited for worksite safety violations, increasing the dangers workers face daily on the job. Every year, OSHA reveals the top 10 safety citations for worksites. In 2019, the top violations were:

  1. Lack of fall protection, with 6,010 violations
  2. Inefficient hazard communication, with 3,671 violations
  3. Unsafe scaffolding, with 2,813 violations
  4. Improper lockout/tagout procedures, with 2,606 violations
  5. Ineffective or absent respiratory protections, with 2,450 violations
  6. Unsafe ladders, with 2,345 violations
  7. Unsafe powered industrial trucks, with 2,093 violations
  8. Insufficient fall protection training, with 1,773 violations
  9. Issues with machine guards, with 1,743 violations
  10. Lack of proper eye and face protection, with 1,411 violations

With so many people potentially serving contractor roles on a worksite, establishing who is responsible for each component of the job and any particular injury is a challenge.

It can be an even more significant challenge with the injured individual is a contractor who holds some degree of responsibility for certain aspects of the job and relevant safety measures. A personal injury lawyer who has experience in workers’ compensation for construction workers and personal injury cases can help you navigate the process for determining liability and collecting compensation for your injuries.

When the Property Owners Are Liable

It may come as a surprise to some, but property owners can be liable for contractor injuries. In most instances, property owners have little to do with a construction project after the project scope and terms are agreed upon, and the contract signed. While this absolves the property owner of much of the liability for injuries that occur on the property in the course of construction, repairs and remodeling, they may still be held responsible in some instances.

The property owner has a duty to warn contractors of any known safety issues on the property. If they do not communicate these issues, they may be held liable when a contractor is injured due to the pre-existing hazard. When the property owner retains a level of control over when and how the project proceeds, they could open themselves up to an even greater level of responsibility if a contractor is injured on their property.

How Jason Stone Can Help

Jason Stone and his team have extensive experience with cases involving construction site injuries. If you are a contractor who sustained an injury on the job, we can help you fight for compensation for your losses. We examine all aspects of the case to determine which way to proceed to recover your losses and get your life back. We know the financial challenges that come with workplace injuries, and our Stone Cold Guarantee ensures that we don’t get paid until you do. Give us a call today, and let’s talk. There is no obligation, just information.

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