When a worker in Florida died after falling from a ladder that had been leaned against the side of a residential structure, his widow filed a liability lawsuit against the on-site general contractor.
However, when the contractor’s insurance company refused to defend or indemnify the firm, indicating that the employee exclusion clause applied, the contractor went to court with its own legal team, and ultimately reached a mediated settlement agreement. But when the widow tried to get the insurance company to pay the settlement, the insurer refused. The resulting case was Stephens v. Mid-Continent Casualty Co.,, reviewed recently by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
Unfortunately for the plaintiff, the appellate court sided with the insurer, finding that the worker was technically an employee, and therefore covered under the exclusive remedy of worker compensation laws, and thus excluded under the employee exclusion clause of the contractor’s insurance policy.
New York construction injury attorneys know that ladder falls can happen at any time, and determining whether serious injuries or death may be compensable is going to depend heavily on the circumstances.
If the ladder fall occurs while the injured party was on-the-job, he or she will at the very least should be entitled to workers’ compensation. If, as in the Stephens case, death results from the fall, his or her surviving spouse and other dependents (as defined by law) are entitled to receive weekly cash benefits. The amount would be equal to two-thirds of the deceased worker’s average weekly wage in the year prior to the incident.
If there aren’t any surviving children or other dependents, surviving parents may be entitled to collect a maximum sum of $50,000, plus up to $6,000 in funeral expenses (or $5,000 if the incident occurs outside the Metropolitan New York area).
But beyond workers’ compensation, an injured party or survivor may seek compensation via a third-party lawsuit. That’s what the widow in the Stephens case attempted.
Generally speaking, a worker can’t sue his or her employer for work injuries, so long as there is workers’ compensation insurance. However, there is a chance that third-party actions (such as by the property owner or ladder manufacturer, etc.) may have contributed to the incident. The possibility of such a lawsuit should be explored with an experienced attorney.
Of course, we’d prefer these kinds of incidents be prevented from occurring in the first place. The onus of prevention is on the employer. When it comes to portable ladder safety, the U.S. Occupational Health & Safety Administration recommends:
Reading and following all labels and markings;
- Avoiding electrical hazards making sure no power lines or exposed electrical equipment is nearby, particularly if using a metal ladder;
- Ensuring ladder users maintain a three-point contact with the ladder when climbing;
- Making sure the rungs are free of any slippery material;
- Never use the top step or rung of a ladder unless it was specifically designed for that purpose;
- Don’t shift the ladder while there is a person or equipment on it;
- Ladders need to be properly secured in order to prevent displacement;
- Make sure that all locks on extension ladders are properly engaged before using them;
- Never exceed the maximum load rating of a ladder.
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.
Stephens v. Mid-Continent Casualty Co., April 24, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
More Blog Entries:
NYC Construction Accident Results in Citation of Crane Operator, Contractor, Feb. 22, 2014, New York City Construction Accident Lawyer Blog