Saturday, March 28, 2009

Construction Worker Injuries and Minnesota Injury Law

As the weather grows warmer here in Minnesota, demand for construction workers will increase. Unfortunately, as construction increases during the Spring and Summer months, so do construction injuries. Construction workers, including framers, siders, roofers, painters, electricians, plumbers, welders, installers, concrete workers, and steel workers are all at high risk for work-related injuries. Construction workers and skilled laborers and tradesman should be aware of their rights if they are injured while working on a construction job.

On any given day, nearly 6.5 million people work at approximately 252,000 construction sites. Unfortunately, the fatal injury rate in the construction industry is much higher than the national average for all other industries. In 2007, there were 441 work-related construction worker deaths, and there were 39 construction worker fatalities in Minnesota. Construction has about 8% of U.S. workers, but 22% of the fatalities - the largest number of fatalities reported for any of the industry sectors.

Common Hazards for Construction Workers

Some common potential hazards for workers in the construction industry include:
  • Falls from ladders
  • Falls from roofs
  • Falls from scaffolding
  • Scaffolding collapses
  • Trench collapses
  • Electric shocks
  • Arc flashes/arc blasts
  • Repetitive motion injuries
  • Foreign objects in eyes
  • Chemical exposure to the eyes or skin
  • Injuries from falling objects
  • Puncture wounds
  • Hand and foot crush injuries
  • Respiratory exposure to toxic fumes or chemicals
  • Burns
  • Lifting injuries
  • Structural collapses
  • Crane accidents
  • Forklift accidents
  • Backhoe accidents
  • Frontloader accidents
  • Elevator shaft falls
  • Occupational hearing loss
  • Heavy equipment accidents
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Power line accidents
  • Compressed gas explosions
  • Power tool accidents
  • Lead poisoning
  • Derrick accidents
  • Falls through skylights and floor openings
  • Boom collapses
  • Hoist accidents
  • Conveyor accidents
  • Crane tip-overs
  • Saw accidents
  • Sander accidents
  • Over-exertion injuries
  • Polisher accidents
  • Exposure to asphalt fumes
  • Skid steer loader accidents
  • Hoist accidents
  • Falls from telecommunication towers
  • Winch accidents
  • Excavation cave-ins
  • Grater accidents
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Scraper accidents
  • Tractor accidents
  • Silica dust exposure
  • Bobcat accidents
  • Bulldozer accidents
  • Boiler accidents and explosions
  • Gas explosions
  • Foundation collapses
  • Nail gun accidents
  • Air compression accidents
Minnesota construction workers who are injured on the job are often entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, including medical expense benefits, wage loss benefits, permanency benefits, and rehabilitation or retraining benefits. If a construction worker is killed as the result of his or her construction work activities, his or her survivors may be entitled to death and dependency workers’ compensation benefits.

“Independent Contractors” or Employees?

Unfortunately, many construction workers incorrectly believe that they are “independent contractors” who are generally not entitled to Minnesota workers’ compensation benefits. In many, many cases, a construction worker who has been labeled as an “independent contractor” by his or her employer is actually an employee under Minnesota law. That means they are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.

Effective January 2009, the Minnesota legislature passed a law requiring “independent contractors” to obtain an Independent Contractor Exemption Certificate, among other things. If a so-called “independent contractor” is injured on a construction job in Minnesota after January 2009, and does not have an Exemption Certificate, he or she is considered an employee for purposes of workers’ compensation. Even if a construction worker has obtained an Exemption Certificate, there are several other factors that must also be met in order for an employee to be considered an “independent contractor” for purposes of Minnesota workers’ compensation.
Even prior to 2009, for a construction worker to be considered an “independent contractor,” a series of several factors had to be satisfied. Otherwise, the injured worker was considered an employee for purposes of Minnesota workers’ compensation.

If you are a construction worker who was hurt on the job, and you’re unsure whether or not you’re an “independent contractor,” we are happy to provide a free, no-obligation consultation. Call Meuser & Associates at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email. Unfortunately, if there is any question as to whether you are an employee or an independent contractor, it is almost guaranteed that the workers’ compensation insurance company will deny your claim.

Uninsured Subcontractors

Generally, an employer is liable only for workers’ compensation benefits to its own employees. However, there is one major exception to this rule which is unique to the construction industry. Where a subcontractor fails to obtain workers’ compensation coverage, the general or intermediate contractor is liable for workers’ compensation benefits to an injured employee, if the subcontractor is working on the subject matter of the subcontract. What this means is that if you are an employee of a subcontractor, and your employer failed to carry workers’ compensation, the general contractor on the job may be responsible for workers’ compensation benefits if you are hurt on the job.

If you are hurt on the job, and your employer is a subcontractor that has no workers’ compensation insurance coverage, you may be covered by the general contractor’s workers’ comp. insurance. Unfortunately, it is almost guaranteed that the general contractor’s insurance company is not going to want to pay your claim. You will probably be in for a fight to get the workers’ compensation benefits you are entitled to. We’ve successfully represented many construction workers in situations like this. Call Meuser & Associates at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our workers' compensation lawyers.

Uninsured Employers and Workers’ Compensation Benefits

Unfortunately, especially in this horrible economic climate, many small construction companies don’t carry workers’ compensation insurance, in an effort to cut costs. If you are a construction worker injured on the job and your employer has no insurance, you may still be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, including medical expense benefits, wage loss benefits, permanency benefits, and rehabilitation and/or retraining benefits. The Minnesota Special Compensation Fund pays workers’ compensation benefits when an employee is injured on the job, but the employer has no workers’ compensation insurance. The uninsured employer does not get by for free in this situation, however. Employers are required by law to carry workers’ compensation insurance to cover their employees. If an employee is injured and the Special Compensation Fund has to pay for that employee’s benefits, the uninsured employer has to reimburse the Special Compensation Fund, and it may also be liable for fines and penalties.

Securing workers’ compensation benefits from the Minnesota Special Compensation Fund when the employer had no insurance is a relatively complex process. The Special Comp Fund treats claims just like a insurance company does, which means they may deny your claim just like a regular insurance company. If your employer had no insurance, you are well advised to contact an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer to help you secure work comp. benefits. Call Meuser & Associates at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with a workers' comp. lawyer.

Third-Party Liability Claims

In addition to workers’ compensation benefits, injured construction workers frequently have third-party liability claims against third parties. Often, injuries to construction workers and job site accidents are caused by the negligence or carelessness of third parties. In any case where a construction worker’s injuries are caused by a third party, other than the employer or a co-worker, there may be a civil case against the third party. Common examples include motor vehicle accidents, accidents caused by other subcontractors, and accidents caused by the negligence of a property manager or owner. While Minnesota workers’ compensation provides some wage loss benefits, some permanency benefits, and some other monetary benefits, generally, civil claims allow an injured person to claim much greater damages, such as greater wage loss, future medical expenses, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life.

A lawyer representing a construction worker injured on a construction site should always investigate the facts of a case to determine whether there is a potential civil claim against a third party. Unfortunately, some lawyers practice only workers’ compensation law, or only personal injury law. Lawyers who practice only personal injury law may not be able to effectively handle your workers’ compensation case. Conversely, lawyers who practice only workers’ compensation law may not recognize your civil case, and may not be able to effectively handle it. In that case, you might need two lawyers to deal with your one accident. The lawyers at Meuser & Associates practice both workers’ compensation and personal injury law, so we know how to do both, and we can handle both aspects of your case, eliminating the need to hire two different lawyers. Call us today at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.

Visit Minnesota Workers' Compensation and Personal Injury Law Firm, Meuser & Associates, P.A., at
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