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Third-Party Construction Lawsuits in the Crane Capital of America

It’s official: The Emerald City remains the crane capital of the U.S. for the second year in a row. The Seattle Times has reported that there were 62 construction cranes in the city at the beginning of 2017. That’s nearly three times the number in New York City, and more cranes than San Francisco and Portland combined.

In July, the Times reported that downtown Seattle hit a new record for construction, with 74 major projects in progress from South Lake Union to Sodo.

With this continuing growth in the construction industry, it’s important for workers to know their legal rights if they get injured at a construction site. Per Times reporting:

Construction remains among the most dangerous jobs available. Nine of the 70 people who died on the job in Washington state in 2015 were working construction. And 7 percent of full-time construction workers in Washington were injured that year — double the national rate.

Large construction projects can create complex legal issues
Matt Neilson, a construction management project engineer blogging at The Urbanist, writes that projects approaching or exceeding 1 million square feet of new construction (like the Amazon Headquarters in the Denny Triangle, for example) require a project life cycle minimum of 500 employees. Those employees come from numerous companies and trades around the Puget Sound region. Sometimes 20 to 30 companies can work on a single project.

When multiple subcontractors work on one big construction project, it can create complex legal issues for an injured worker. Let’s look at an example case.

Joanne’s Case
Joanne worked at a busy construction site in Seattle. She worked for one of the subcontractors who provided plumbing installation for the building. As she was setting up one morning, the building’s framing, which had been installed by a different subcontractor, came loose. It fell and hit Joanne in the shoulder, causing a significant injury that required surgery.

What are the legal claims this injured worker can file?
Here are some possibilities: 

  • Joanne can file a workers’ compensation claim with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I).

Even though Joanne’s injury was caused by the framing, she has the right to file for workers’ compensation from her own employer, the plumbing company. She does not have to prove either company’s fault in order to receive medical and wage loss benefits.

  • She might also file a claim against the framing company.

In addition to receiving workers’ compensation, an injured worker may file a lawsuit against a negligent subcontractor. This is sometimes called a “third party” lawsuit. For this claim, Joanne must prove that the framing company was at fault in order to recover damages.

  • Finally, if defective equipment was involved in the accident, the equipment manufacturer might be brought into the lawsuit as well.

Who pays damages on the worker’s claim?
An injured worker may receive workers’ compensation benefits and recover damages from a negligent subcontractor. If this happens, L&I or the worker’s self-insured employer has a lien against the damages recovered from the contractor.

So, if Joanne receives workers’ compensation benefits and recovers against the framing company, L&I will be reimbursed with  a portion of the damages the framing company pays. Washington State law includes a formula for calculating L&I’s pro-rata share of the recovery.

How does an injured worker know if a third-party claim exists?
If you’ve applied for workers’ compensation, L&I may have sent you a Third-Party Election Form that says you may be able to take legal action against someone other than your employer.

Injuries on the job happen, and when they do, our lawyers in Seattle and Everett personal injury attorneys are here to help you. Please contact The Walthew Law Firm for a free consultation today.

An article by The Walthew Law Firm and Cristin Fenzel, editor. 

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