$12.5 Million Awarded to Seriously Injured Worker due to Employer Neglience
Workplace safety isn’t optional. It’s the law. Failure to take steps to ensure a safe workplace for all employees can have immense consequences not just for the workers themselves, but also for the business as an ongoing concern.
Failure to enforce workplace safety standards and failure to maintain adequate insurance coverage can mean bankruptcy for small and medium-sized businesses in the event of a serious accident.
For example, consider one case that unfolded in Hillsborough County, New Hampshire: A 24-year-old construction worker was helping his employer, a framing contractor, put up a high-rise residential apartment building. The general manager on the project was the Chestnut Hill Corporation, which had retained the workers’ employer as a subcontractor on the project.
At the time of the accident, the framing crew was putting together staging on the third floor, when the worker stepped on some wood siding panels. The panels gave way under his weight, and the worker fell through the stairwell and landed on his head.
He was hospitalized for several months for severe head trauma and spinal injury, resulting in permanent incomplete quadriplegia.
Workers’ compensation insurance will handle the costs of a workplace injury under the exclusive remedy doctrine, but if the employer is found negligent in their responsibility to maintain a safe workplace, they can be sued for negligence
The worker filed suit, and a former head of the New Hampshire office came in as an expert witness and testified that the contractors had failed to provide workers with a safe workplace for the following reasons:
- They failed to provide barricades.
- They failed to cover open holes and open stairwells
- They failed to adequately train workers on safe construction methods and work practices.
The contractor’s attorneys argued that the worker himself was negligent, and that the negligence was contributory to his injuries. Their argument was that the workers had other means of protecting themselves available to them on the jobsite and didn’t take them.
The jury didn’t buy that argument. The general contractor still had overall supervisory responsibility and the jury returned a verdict of $12.5 million against Chestnut Hill.
Could your company survive a $12 million judgment?
The time to address the question of liability is before the accident happens. Just as you cannot buy fire insurance when your roof is already aflame, you normally cannot buy liability insurance to protect your company against known events that have already occurred.
That said, liability from business-related injuries doesn’t even have to arise from injuries to employees. Any general contractor, for example, could be liable for injuries to subcontractors, vendors or passersby as a result of hazardous conditions on the worksite or a truck driving accident.
While the incidence of multi-million dollar claims is low, you never know when or where such a claim will come from, and accidents can strike any business.
That’s where umbrella liability insurance coverage comes in. This insurance coverage provides protection to your business, your employees and subcontractors and your community by providing millions in potential benefits over and above the limits of workers compensation, commercial auto, property insurance, employer’s liability, and other kinds of base insurance policies.
And because incidents are rare, but potentially huge, these risks lend themselves well to risk transference via insurance.
Contractors, engineers, transportation companies, landlords and other businesses can purchase significant protection, amounting to millions and even tens of millions of dollars, for surprisingly affordable, easy-to-afford premiums.