Families of three workers killed in a North Carolina scaffolding accident have filed a lawsuit against four companies that were either central to work on the project or supplied the scaffolding necessary to complete it.
The March 2015 accident killed three men, two of them 33-years-old and a third was 41. All lived in this state. A fourth worker, 53, was treated for serious injuries but survived. The men worked for a subcontractor that was helping to erect a $54 million office building on Fayetteville and Lenoir Streets, adjacent to the Raleigh Convention Center and the Duke Energy Performing Arts Center.
News reports indicate the problem was the scaffolding mast climber. This is a type of equipment that goes up and down the side of a building to take workers to different floors. These men were working to take the scaffolding down when one of the tracks snapped off and came crashing to the ground in a huge mass of metal.
According to the lawsuit, the general contractor on site hurried the subcontractor to dismantle the scaffold, so sections of it were being loaded onto the platform where the workers were standing. That platform had a maximum weigh limit of 2,500 pounds. But with the scaffolding equipment on there, it was bearing 4,200 pounds at the time of the accident.
Worse, the vertical mast on the scaffolding wasn’t properly anchored to the building. This combined with it carrying too much weight is what caused it to fall, the lawsuit alleges.
As far as the companies that supplied the scaffolding, plaintiffs allege the firms failed to properly train contractors on how to construct the equipment and how to work the mast climber. An attorney for the families stated that had simple protocols involved in building, inspecting and operating the scaffold equipment been followed, this horrific construction accident never would have happened.
WRAL.com reported in September that three companies involved in the incident were fined for violation of safety procedures. Officials with the state Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) concluded the one scaffolding company committed three willful violations and one serious violation by loading more weight than the structure was designed to hold and didn’t have a competent person on site working to make sure procedures were followed so a collapse didn’t occur. That company was fined $152,000.
Two other companies were each fined $4,200 for serious violations. The maximum fine they could have received was $7,000 and work safety advocates expressed dismay these firms didn’t have to pay that much.
Investigators did not fine the general contractor or the subcontractor who employed the workers.
The families aren’t suing the subcontractor, most likely because they can’t. North Carolina workers’ compensation law prohibits personal injury/ wrongful death lawsuits against employers who carry workers’ compensation coverage and haven’t committed an intentional wrong against their employees.
However, workers – and their surviving families – are free to pursue third-party liability against other companies or individuals whose negligence may have caused or contributed to the accident. Often, third-party liability lawsuits result in compensation that is far more substantial than what one receives under workers’ compensation death benefits. Still, plaintiffs have to proceed cautiously, as their benefits could be impacted by any damage award they obtain.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Dead workers’ families file lawsuit over Raleigh scaffolding collapse, Jan. 7, 2016, By Cullen Browder, WRAL.com
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Sevy v. SVL Analytical – Asserting Total Permanent Disability, Jan. 6, 2016, Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog North Carolina