A string of recent criminal cases brought in response to serious New York construction accidents shows how workplace safety violations can invite action from state prosecutors.

When a worker is hurt on the job, they are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, and, possibly, a personal injury lawsuit. And if they die on the job, their dependents may be eligible for survivor benefits and a civil case. But a District Attorney (DA) may also elect to bring criminal charges against the parties responsible for a worker’s injury or death.

Two Fatal Cases, One Serious Injury Case Draw DA Action

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigates an accident if it causes a fatality or the hospitalization of three or more workers.

When an investigation uncovers health and safety violations, OSHA can issue monetary penalties. OSHA can issue criminal sanctions as well in certain circumstances. In addition, OSHA may refer workplace safety violations to DAs in fatality cases.

The criminal charges that prosecutors can bring for workplace fatalities under state law are more severe than the criminal sanctions that OSHA can levy, which top out at a $10,000 fine and imprisonment of up to 6 months. DAs, however, have the full range of state misdemeanor and felony charges at their disposal when charging an individual or company owner.

This year, New York DAs have twice issued manslaughter charges over construction worker deaths. In July, a New York construction manager was charged with manslaughter following a 2022 fatal accident at the R.J. Valente Gravel site in Grafton, NY. In April, the Bronx District Attorney’s office charged a construction company and its management with manslaughter over a 2019 incident that crushed a worker to death.

But it’s not just fatal construction accidents that can lead to state criminal prosecution. Two New York construction supervisors are on trial for an East Harlem accident that left two workers permanently disabled. The supervisors overseeing the project are charged with assault and reckless endangerment.

Earlier this year, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez won the conviction of a contractor in a 2018 falling debris incident that killed 47-year-old Luis Sánchez Almonte. It was the third such conviction in NYC in the past few years, according to THE CITY. Gonzalez reportedly pursued the case in cooperation with the Department of Investigation and Department of Buildings.

Workers’ Compensation and Construction Accident Lawsuits

Construction work is the most dangerous job in New York—and it’s been getting more dangerous.

A report issued this year by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) found that construction industry fatalities increased 54% in New York City and 49% in New York State from 2020 – 2021.

Latino construction workers like Luis Sánchez Almonte are particularly at risk of dying on the job at a New York construction site. They make up around 10% of the state’s construction workforce but account for one-quarter of all construction worker fatalities.

New York’s unique construction accident laws provide strong protections for injured workers and their families. Labor Law Section 240 (i.e., “The Scaffold Law”), for example, places strict liability on building owners and general contractors that do not comply with the statute’s safety provisions. Violations of Labor Law 200 and 241 similarly allow construction workers hurt on the job to hold owners and contractors liable. If an accident leads to a fatality, the worker’s family may be able to use these same laws to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Injury and wrongful death construction accident lawsuits against an owner, general contractor, subcontractor, or other party can be pursued in tandem with workers’ compensation claims. That’s because the worker’s employer is not being sued. This is known as a “third party lawsuit.”

Workers’ compensation law forbids workers to sue their employer or a co-worker. An accident caused by employer or co-worker negligence only qualifies for workers’ compensation benefits.

The families of a worker killed on the job may be eligible for workers’ compensation survivor benefits, including weekly compensation and funeral expenses. But they probably will not be able to sue the worker’s employer for personal injury or wrongful death.

Family members most likely also can’t file criminal charges against an employer/co-worker for a workplace death, even if they committed safety violations. However, as the cases discussed above demonstrate, the state could bring criminal prosecution for a workplace death or injury.

Construction Accident? Call 855-SANDERS

When safety rules are ignored and construction workers are harmed as a result, New York law allows victims and their loved ones to hold negligent parties accountable. But taking full advantage of these laws may require help from an attorney.

The Sanders Law Firm has dedicated construction attorneys and staff available to answer your personal injury, wrongful death, and workers’ compensation questions in multiple languages, including Spanish. For a free evaluation of your construction accident case call (855) SANDERS or contact us.