Lawsuit against contractor

Questions about recent construction worker’s death.

Several days ago, a construction worker fell to his death at a site on the Bellevue College campus. Exactly why he fell 50 feet off a ladder is still the subject of investigation.

This tragedy is unfortunately not the first of its kind this year. The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has cited three companies for safety violations related to the death of a construction worker in downtown Seattle in January. The man died after falling 72 feet from a scaffold at a construction site on Taylor Avenue North. 

A serious violation exists in a workplace if there is a substantial probability that worker death or serious physical harm could result from a hazardous condition. A willful violation can be issued when L&I has evidence of plain indifference, a substitution of judgment or an intentional disregard to a hazard or rule.

Referring to the January construction fatality, “This tragedy could have been prevented if any one of these companies had made certain that proper and safe scaffolding was installed to do the necessary work, and workers had appropriate fall-protection and training,” said Anne Soiza, assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “Frequent hazard analysis on construction sites will save lives.”

Whether a worker is a contractor or an employee, the general contractor/employer is responsible for providing for adequate safety equipment and training. Adequate and frequent inspections of the site are also required.

Stritmatter Kessler Whelan was asked to represent a profoundly injured construction worker, Candelario Perez, who was tightening barbed wire fence, when he slipped and fell off a cliff. Luckily, he survived. However, he is now a quadriplegic.  After the State of WA’s investigation ruled against the general contractor and issued a small fine. But becaue Mr. Perez was a subcontractor, he had the right to sue the general contractor.

Under Washington State law, there is a principle known as “Stute.” Stute requires that a general contractor maintain a safe work site. In Mr. Perez’s case, the general contractor had no idea how to work on a cliff and delegated that project by hiring a subcontractor. However, the general contractor did nothing to ensure that the subcontractor was keeping its employees safe.

Because there is worker’s compensation in Washington, an injured worker cannot sue their employer. But they can sue if someone other than their employer caused their injury.

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