More deaths occur in the construction industry every year than in almost any other industry in the U.S., and electrocution is one of the top four causes of those deaths. It follows that electrical injuries are a significant reason for lawsuits by construction workers and their families.
It's important to note that workers’ compensation laws sometimes limit the recoveries of employees for injuries sustained on the job, including in electricity-related injury cases. (Learn more about construction injuries and workers' comp). In the sections that follow, we will provide an overview of the safety standards applicable to work near sources of electricity. We will then discuss injury claims based on an electrical shock injuries to construction workers.
Electricity Safety Standards
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations on electrical safety are generally considered an authoritative source on how to provide for a safe work environment around high voltage sources. But those regulations are not the only published guide on electrical safety. States and private organizations may pass their own safety regulations. Violations of any of these published regulations or standards can often be used as evidence in a personal injury case resulting from an electrical injury.
The OSHA regulations provide specific requirements for safety procedures based on the amount of voltage involved in the work and the distance from the ground. The regulations provide that employers are responsible for providing safe electrical equipment and tools to complete work. The regulations also describe the proper procedures for working in proximity to overhead wires.
Personal Injury Cases Resulting From Electrical Injuries
As we discussed above, a lot of construction worker injury cases that involve electrocution fall under workers' compensation rules. But some of these cases may also involve the potential liability of a third party (like a property owner if working conditions are unsafe, or a product manufacturer if equipment malfunctions).
In order to win an injury claim in cases like these, a worker must usually prove three elements:
- that the defendant had a duty to provide for the safety of the worker
- that the defendant breached that duty, and
- the breach caused harm.
Duty of Care Owed by the Defendant to the Worker. In order for an injured construction worker to prevail in a lawsuit against a defendant, the defendant must have had a duty to provide for the safety of the worker. Not every entity involved in a construction project has such a duty. Laws are complicated and can vary by state, but generally speaking, any party that provides or maintains electrical equipment has a duty to provide for the safety of the workers using that equipment. (Learn more about construction accident lawsuits.)
Under certain instances, if equipment or a product is defective, is unreasonably dangerous, or does not perform up to reasonable expectations, the manufacturer and/or supplier of that product may be on the hook for liability if the product or equipment injures someone.
Breach of the Duty of Care. A breach is any failure by the defendant to properly provide for the safety of a worker. Any violation of the OSHA regulations discussed above will generally be considered a breach of the duty of care. Any other violation of a safety standard generally accepted in the industry or recommended by experts may also amount to a breach of the standard of care. The most common electrical hazards in the construction industry are:
- contact with overhead power lines
- contact with energized sources, and
- improper use of extension and flexible cords.
So, a few examples of breaches of a duty of care might include:
- an employer instructing workers to operate a crane near overhead power lines
- an employer failing to properly train employees in de-energizing electrical sources,
- an employer failing to provide adequate fall protection, causing a worker to fall several floors after coming into contact with an exposed source of electricity, or
- an employer failing to timely replace old extension cords.
Harm Caused by the Breach. The construction worker must have suffered some type of compensable loss, which is usually a given in cases involving electrocution injuries. In personal injury cases, the most common types of damages include medical expenses, lost wages (for time missed from work due to the injury), and pain and suffering.