Many construction worker safety precautions must be taken by the workers themselves. A worker might suffer a head injury as a result of failing to wear head protection, or a worker might suffer a fall injury due to the collapse of a scaffold that the worker was involved in assembling. At first blush, it would seem unjust to hold a construction company liable for a construction worker injury caused by the worker’s own mistake. But should a construction worker be expected to know and appreciate all of the proper safety procedures and precautions at a construction site? Or should the construction company have an obligation to train the worker to act in a safe manner while on the job?
The laws of most states require construction companies to train workers to abide by proper safety procedures. If a construction company fails to provide that training and a worker becomes injured, the worker may be able to sue the employer even if the injury was the result of a mistake made by the worker.
In the sections that follow, we discuss what a construction worker would have to prove to win a lawsuit for injuries resulting from improper safety training.
Personal Injury Cases Resulting From Improper Safety Training
In order to win a personal injury lawsuit for harm caused by improper safety training, a worker must prove three elements:
- that the defendant had a duty to provide adequate safety training to the worker
- that the defendant breached that duty, and
- that the breach caused harm.
Duty to Train Owed by the Defendant to the Worker
In order for a worker to prevail in a lawsuit against a defendant, the defendant must have had a duty to provide safety training to 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, if a party directs a worker to perform a specific task, the party has a legal obligation to ensure that the worker knows how to perform the task safely.
For example, a construction company generally cannot just assume that all workers know that head protection should be worn any time work is going on above them. Instruction on when to wear head protection should usually be included as part of a worker’s training.
In most cases, a worker will use an expert witness (usually obtained through an attorney) to explain to the jury what the defendant’s duties were with respect to training. The expert will explain the type and extent of safety training provided by other construction companies on similar projects or under similar circumstances. The jury will then consider the expert’s opinion and determine whether the amount of training provided by the defendant was reasonably sufficient under the circumstances in which the injury occurred.
Breach of the Duty to Train
A breach is any failure by the defendant to properly provide the safety training that a reasonable construction company would have provided under similar circumstances. So, if a jury believes the worker’s expert witness and concludes that the construction company should reasonably have been required to train workers -- in proper use of heavy equipment, or on safety protocols to follow when working with chemicals, for example -- a failure by the construction company to provide that training would be a breach of the duty.
If a jury concludes that the defendant breached a duty to train, it means that the defendant was negligent. If the defendant’s negligence caused harm to the worker, the defendant will be liable for that harm.
Harm Caused by the Breach
In personal injury cases, the most common types of damages include:
- medical expenses
- lost wages (for time missed from work due to the injury)
- pain and suffering, and
- loss of normal life (the decreased quality of a person’s life as a result of the injury).
It is critical that the damages were actually caused by the defendant’s negligence. So, if a construction company failed to train a worker to wear head protection while on the job and the worker tripped over a board, breaking a leg, while not wearing head protection, the construction company probably would not be liable for the injury. The company was negligent (by failing to properly train the individual). But the negligence did not cause the injury. The worker would have broken the leg regardless of whether he or she was wearing proper head protection at the time.