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The Fatal Four: Many Construction Deaths Have One of Four Causes

Any construction worker knows that hazards on a job site are everywhere. Some dangers, however, are more serious than others. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), just four types of accidents caused nearly 60 percent of fatal construction accidents in 2011. They are called the Fatal Four, and they include falls, electrocutions, being struck by objects and being caught in or between objects.

In some situations, workers who were injured on the job are eligible only for workers’ compensation benefits, which are designed to provide medical treatment, partially replace lost wages and help workers return to the job. In some cases, however, a worker can sue. For example, a worker can sue an employer if that employer’s serious and willful misconduct caused the injury. A worker or family members can also sue a third party for causing injuries.

When these severe injuries have permanent consequences or cause death, the personal injury claims can be significant, as four recent California worker injury cases show.


Falls are a leading cause of serious injury or death. Nationally, 251 construction workers died in work-related falls in 2011. That’s 35 percent of the total construction deaths. Even when nonfatal, falls can cause serious injuries. In one recent case, a pipefitter and welder in the Bay Area noticed a piece of plywood on the ground, lifted it and took a step forward to finish lifting with his legs. He fell into an open manhole the plywood was covering, injuring his knee and several disks in his spine.

The worker was the foreman for a contractor; he claimed that the refinery where he was working had negligently failed to ensure that the hole was properly marked. The case settled in mediation for $1.15 million.


Electrocutions caused 67 construction worker deaths in 2011, or 9 percent of the construction deaths in the nation. In California, one recent wrongful death case involved a man who was electrocuted at a lettuce packing plant. He was providing technical support for a new scale that was being installed. One morning, he cut into a communication cable that was on the ground near the scale and was electrocuted.

The defendant, an electrical contractor, had performed electrical work in that area and left the cable on the ground without any warnings that the cable was live. A jury returned a verdict of $5.3 million. It found that the defendant was partially at fault, and that the electric company and the packaging plant were both partially at fault. Based on the percentage of the defendant’s fault, the man’s children were awarded $2.6 million.

Being Struck By an Object

Of the construction worker deaths in 2011, 73, or 10 percent, happened when a worker was struck by an object. Being struck by an object causes many more injuries than deaths each year. In one recent California case, a man won a $583,000 jury verdict after his back was broken when a temporary fence collapsed onto him at a job site. The worker was employed by a paving company. He was placing cones in the road for a paving job when the general contractor removed two posts from a temporary fence. A large section of the fence collapsed on the paving company employee. He was unable to work for six months.

Being Caught Between Objects

As the fourth most common cause of construction worker injury, being caught between objects killed 19 people, or 3 percent of the construction worker deaths in 2011. In one case, a jury awarded a $10 million verdict to a man whose foot was crushed when it was caught between a flatbed cart and a set of metal stairs at an auto assembly plant. All defendants but one settled before trial, meaning the actual amount awarded to the worker was less than $10 million.

Contact an experienced construction accident lawyer today if you need assistance with a worksite claim. Call Corsiglia McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. at (408) 289-1417 to schedule a free consultation.

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