What is being done to prevent construction site deaths in New York City?
With the guilty verdict for manslaughter against Harco Construction related to a trench collapse earlier this year in New York City, the Manhattan District Attorney will now have more leverage to rely on criminal prosecutions in construction site deaths. The case arose from the death of an undocumented immigrant worker, who was employed by Long Island-based Sky Materials, in a trench collapse. The worker was buried alive when an unsupported 14 foot deep trench caved in. Both companies were charged in the incident, and a trial involving Sky Materials is pending. According to reports, both companies failed to heed warnings of the potential hazards by safety inspectors. In addition to manslaughter, Harco was also found guilty of criminally negligent homicide and three counts of reckless endangerment. During the trial, the company argued that the excavation subcontractor was responsible for the collapse, and that Harco, as general contractor, could not oversee every aspect of Sky’s work. The judge disagreed, however, finding Harco criminally negligent. “Today’s guilty verdict should signal to the construction industry that managing a project from afar does not insulate a corporation or general contractor from criminal liability," said Manhattan DA Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. Some observers believe the verdict against Harco could lead to a new and stricter standard for criminal liability for construction site accidents. This was also hailed as a victory for immigrant workers that will lead to greater safety standards. A variety of advocacy groups supporting undocumented workers had protested in front of the courthouse during the trial, calling for Harco to be convicted. Undocumented Workers Injured in Construction Accidents The nature of construction work is dangerous, and many workers are seriously injured in accidents such as cave-ins. While these accidents are often the basis of personal injury lawsuits, a criminal conviction like this case is rare. The challenge in these cases is determining which party is at fault since a typical project involves property owners, contractors and subcontractors, manufacturers and suppliers. In the end, the use of undocumented workers on construction sites in New York City is far more common than many people realize. These workers have rights, however, and undocumented construction workers who are injured in construction accidents may be able to sue for damages. It remains to be seen whether the victim’s family will pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. In the meantime, a company that fails to provide a safe working environment at a construction site can be found negligent. If you or a loved one was seriously injured in a construction accident you should speak with an experienced personal injury attorney.