Construction sites pose inherent dangers to the lives of workers. Defective construction equipment, lack of supervision, improper equipment and improper training can all give rise to serious worker injuries. Injured construction workers should understand how Illinois negligence and workers’ compensation laws may apply to their case. A worker may be unable to meet the eligibility requirements for filing a workers’ compensation claim, but he may still have a claim against a manufacturer of construction equipment or sub-contractor.
In Illinois, construction accident cases are typically resolved according to common law principles of negligence law. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act may also be relevant for resolving the claims of workers. A worker may also need to join additional defendants in a construction accident case, such as the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority or city governments. Government entities may owe workers a duty to maintain highway conditions and eliminate harmful risks to workers. Some of the other laws that are relevant in Illinois construction accidents are:
- The legal definition of “duty” under Illinois case law and construction contracts
- Principles of agency law when subcontractors are involved
- Independent contractors and their liability under Illinois negligence case law
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Standards
- Principles of direct and proximate causation under negligence law
- Premises liability laws
- Cross-claims and third-party liability
- The Illinois Contribution Among Joint Tortfeasor Act
- Illinois Anti-Indemnity Act
- Modified comparative negligence law
- Disability benefits available under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act (IWCA)
“Duty” Owed in Construction Cases
Construction accident cases often entail the filing of a negligence claim against multiple parties. A subcontractor, government agency, engineer, architect, manufacturer, distributor or general contractor may be liable for the injuries of a worker. A worker has the burden of proving that he has been injured under both negligence law and the IWCA. If a worker is unable to file a workers’ compensation claim, he may resort to filing a negligence claim against the appropriate defendant. To establish liability in a construction accident case, a plaintiff must prove:
- A duty was owed by the relevant part (subcontractor, equipment manufacturer, etc.)
- The appropriate party failed to uphold the applicable legal standard of care
- The duty was breached in some manner
- The breach caused the injuries or illness of the worker
- The worker has actual damages
A construction worker may sue his employer under the IWCA and generally may not pursue a negligence claim directly against the employer.
Assessing the Construction Contract
The construction contract between an owner, general contractor and sub-contractor is often relevant in analyzing a negligence claim involving a construction accident. An injured worker will need to analyze the contract to see whether a general contractor has agreed to assume all responsibility for maintaining the safety of a worksite. A sub-contractor may also have a contract that provides it with a degree of control over worksite conditions. As a result of contractual language, multiple construction entities may be liable for the injuries of a worker.
The “Control” Factor
Illinois courts are unique in that they have interpreted the duty owed by a construction entity according to the “control” exerted by the entity. The greater control a contractor has over another’s work, the more likely that a court will find the original contractr to have a legal duty owed. In Martens v. MCL Construction Corporation, 347 Ill. App. 3rd 303, 807 N.E.2nd 480 (1st District 2004), the court interpreted the duty owed by a subcontractor based on the definition of “control” set forth in the construction contract. Other Illinois courts have expanded on the Martens’ court ruling and have found that contractual language alone is not enough to define “control” and the duty owed by a subcontractor. A court also assesses the facts of a case to determine the supervisory and operational control exerted by a subcontractor. If a subcontract retains sufficient control and authority over employees’ work, then a court may then assess whether the duty was exercised with reasonable care.
Establishing “Control” in Discovery
The plaintiff’s attorney may have the responsibility of gathering testimony from co-workers in regards to the supervision practices of a contractor. In addition, co-workers may be called upon to testify about daily operations to help the jury determine whether a contractor exerted operational control over the work. Expert testimony may also be used to determine whether a construction company violated OSHA regulations in the course of its work. The violation of an OSHA regulation may provide conclusive proof that a contractor has breached its duty to a worker.
OSHA standards often have direct bearing on the outcome of a construction accident case. OSHA regulations govern the safety of a worksite, and they often control:
- Type of safety equipment that must be provided to construction workers
- The warnings that must be provided to construction workers
- Supervision required on a worksite
- Compliance measures for maintaining a safe worksite
Joint and Several Liability
Illinois allows parties to be jointly and severally liable for the damages of a plaintiff. Even if a general contractor is only 10 percent liable, while a subcontractor is 90 percent liable, the plaintiff can recover 100 percent of his or her award from the general contractor. Either party is liable for paying the full extent of damages awarded to the plaintiff. A construction party may become totally liable for the damages of a plaintiff in the event that another defendant becomes bankrupt or is uninsured.
Under the Illinois Contribution Among Joint Tortfeasor Act, a defendant that has been forced to pay the entire judgment of a plaintiff may seek contribution from the other liable parties from the original lawsuit. This Act provides a contractor with a claim against the party that did not pay for his or her fair share of the judgment.
The Illinois Anti-Indemnity Act
Indemnity agreements apportion liability in the event that an individual is liable for the injuries of another. Under the Illinois Anti-Indemnity Act, indemnity agreements are void in the construction industry. Despite this law, construction entities continue to use indemnity clauses in their contracts. Illinois courts have taken the approach of binding construction entities to unlimited contribution in the event that they use an indemnity clause in an agreement.
Benefits Available Under the IWCA
The IWCA outlines the benefits that are available to an injured worker. If a worker has been injured, he may be eligible to receive total or partial permanent disability benefits. Those who have lost a body part as a result of a construction accident, such as a leg or finger, may be eligible to receive benefits for a specified number of weeks. The IWCA lists the benefits available for workers according to scheduled body parts. If the worker has not suffered from a permanent disability, he or she may qualify for temporary partial disability benefits. Death benefits may be available to surviving family members who have lost a loved one in a construction accident.
Workers who decide to pursue negligence claims against non-employer construction entities may be eligible to receive damages for past, present and future lost wages. They may be able to recover medical expenses, loss of consortium and pain and suffering.
Learn More About Illinois Construction Accident Laws
If you have suffered from an injury due to a construction accident, you may want to further review the IWCA to determine whether you have a claim. An Illinois construction accident attorney can also help you become aware of the most recent developments in Illinois statutes and case law in regards to construction accidents.