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Causes of Ladder Accidents 

While ladder use may seem straightforward, there are key failures in ladder setup and use that can lead to an accident. To prevent serious injury, the American Ladder Institute provides a comprehensive list of ladder safety guidelines, and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requires employers to adhere to established regulations on ladder safety.

When using equipment to ascend above the ground, even the smallest of mistakes can result in severe injury. Causes for ladder accidents can be a result of user error, equipment malfunction, environmental hazards, employer negligence, and other dangers. You must also take into consideration the ladder’s type, height, and duty.

Whether an accident involving a ladder occurs on the job site or in your home, it is likely to be caused by one of these factors:

Dangerous Ladder Placement

Employers, general contractors, and site owners should ensure safe placement before instructing a worker to climb a ladder. In New York, for instance, it is the general contractor, site owner, and/or developer’s responsibility to provide appropriate safety devices such as ladders for construction work. The construction worker is not responsible for bringing their own equipment to his site. New York State legislature has determined by virtue of Labor Law 240(1) to place the responsibility for providing safe ladders on the general contractor and site owner as they are in a better financial position than a single worker to provide proper safety devices.

It is common for a 6-foot or 8-foot A-frame ladder to be provided to laborers performing construction work. While the ladder itself may be perfectly fine, the problem often arises when the ladder was used as an improper safety device when a scaffold should have been used. For example, a worker who must use both their hands while performing overhead carpentry work should not be given a ladder to work on. It is impossible for that work to be done safely.

It is not enough just for a general contractor or site development owner to provide a ladder. It is the responsibility of those parties to ensure that the ladders are properly located in a safe position and on a safe stable surface.

A common mistake is the placement of ladders in high-traffic areas, such as doorways and driveways. Workers should never be instructed to place a ladder in front of a door that may open in their direction. Heavy traffic areas provide ample opportunity for ladders to be jostled and destabilized, risking the safety of the user and unsuspecting bystanders. In New York, Labor Law 240(1) recognizes that workers are often under pressure from their bosses to perform work in dangerous circumstances. Under the law, if a worker is injured due to the unsafe placement of a ladder in circumstances listed above, the general contractor and or owner or developer will be held responsible for that dangerous placement leading to an elevation-related injury.

Ladders should also not be placed on unstable ground; this includes slippery surfaces as well as uneven surfaces. It is the general contractor and owner’s responsibility to ensure that the work surfaces are stable and safe for ladder placement. Similarly, it is the responsibility of the general contractor and owner to ensure that the rungs of the ladder, as well as the feet of the ladder, should be in good repair and dry while in use.

Incorrect Type of Ladder

The way a ladder is selected is just as important as the way it‘s being used. In some cases, workers are denied the equipment they need to do a job safely and effectively. Whatever project you are working on, it is the responsibility of the general contractor and owner of the subject premises to provide workers with the correct safety device.

If a 6-foot A-frame ladder is provided when a taller ladder should have been provided, that is the fault of the general contractor and owner — not the worker who was simply coming to work to do an honest day’s work.

If a ladder is too short, the user may be compelled to step onto the top rung or overextend themselves, potentially causing them to fall. Even if there is a warning sticker on a ladder, that does not take the blame away from the general contractor and/or property owner for failing to provide the correct size ladder to a worker.

Users must also be aware of the “duty” of ladder they are utilizing. Ladders range from light duty to special heavy duty, capable of supporting 200 to 375 pounds.

If the user selects a ladder that cannot handle the weight of their body, clothing, and carried equipment, the ladder could collapse. Choosing the right ladder for the job at hand could be the difference between life or death.

Use of Faulty Ladder

Ladders should be checked and inspected for damage by the general contractor, developer, and owner before every new work shift begins. Old ladders should be replaced, and broken ladders should either be fixed or replaced. It is not the worker’s responsibility to perform those tasks but the general contractor’s responsibility.

Insurance companies for these entities often argue that construction workers should be held liable for a fall from a ladder when such an inspection is not conducted by the worker. That is not the way that the law works in the state of New York. It is the owner and general contractor’s responsibility to provide proper safety equipment to the worker, not the other way around. Loose screws and unstable rungs can create a recipe for disaster. Property developers and general contractors should have an inspection protocol in place such that any problems with ladders are discovered before a worker gets on to the ladder to do work. Unfortunately, workers are often put in the dangerous position of being forced to use faulty equipment due to negligent employers refusing to replace or maintain it.

Employers are required to supply their employees with safe equipment for the job. If you experienced personal injury after your employer failed to provide safe ladders, you could seek compensation for your injuries. Alternatively, the manufacturer of the equipment could be liable for damages if the accident was caused by an improperly designed and assembled ladder.

Use the 4-to-1 Rule to Prevent Ladder Accidents

To avoid injury, workers should be trained in the ideal placement for any ladder: A dry, even surface in a low-traffic area using the 4-to-1 rule.

The 4-to-1 rule dictates that the base of an extension ladder should be placed one foot away from the wall for every four feet it reaches. This prevents the user from falling backward while using a ladder. Also, the top of a ladder used to access an elevated work area, such as a roof, should be properly secured to the work surface or extend at least three feet taller than the surface.

Why Ladder Accidents Are So Dangerous 

Ladder accidents have the potential to cause severe injury and even death. Any equipment that allows the user to ascend above the ground poses an inherent risk due to the potential for falls. Falls continue to be the leading cause of death in the workplace, accounting for roughly 40% of all deaths in the construction industry annually.

Each year, 300 individuals lose their lives due to ladder accidents, with around half of these yearly ladder fatalities occurring while the victim is on the job. In 2021, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) reported that fall protection in the construction industry was the number one cited safety standard infraction, providing ample opportunity for employees to fall and become injured. 161 fatal work injuries were caused by ladder accidents in 2020, trending steadily with years prior:

Fatal Work Injuries from Ladders

Shockingly, most of these falls happen from a height of 10 feet or less. One case reported to OSHA included an employee who was changing a light bulb and fell from a six-foot ladder, resulting in a fatal skull fracture. Regardless of the height you are working at, it is crucial that all safety measures have been applied before climbing the rungs.

Common Injuries from Ladder Accidents

Ladder accident injuries are tragically common. In 2020 alone, 22,710 injuries were sustained by ladder users in the United States. Among these, maintenance and construction workers proved to be at the highest risk for ladder accidents. Common ladder injuries include:

  • Herniated or bulging spinal discs
  • Partial or full paralysis
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Skull fracture
  • Soft tissue injury
  • Other musculoskeletal injury

Beyond physical injury, a ladder accident injury can cause devastating damage in the professional and personal life of the injured. Often, those who have been hurt while using a ladder are forced to stop working for a period of time or end their career entirely. Personal injury can strain personal relationships and create mental health challenges.

Workers’ Compensation for Ladder Accidents

Immediately following a ladder accident, you should seek medical attention. Seek medical attention even if you don’t notice pain initially: You could have fractured bones, herniated discs, or other musculoskeletal injuries that may not be painful for hours, days, or even weeks following the accident. 

If you were injured while on the job, you could be eligible for worker’s compensation. This is a type of insurance paid for by your employer, with no cost to you. It is intended to pay for your medical needs related to the accident and provide cash benefits to help with time needed to take off for healing. It is even possible to get vocational rehabilitation in case you cannot return to your former profession due to your injuries. According to New York State Workers’ Compensation Law, most employers must provide workers’ compensation coverage for their employees (WCL §2 and 3).

Thankfully, workers compensation is not your only legal option if you’ve been involved in a ladder accident on the job. There are many instances in which a legally responsible party can be held liable for the injuries you have incurred after falling off a ladder at work. Several entities, such as general contractors and construction site owners, are responsible for ensuring that all applicable safety regulations are being adhered to.

These regulations could be established by a federal entity, such as OSHA regulations, or a state entity, like New York’s “Industrial Code”. There are also a variety of laws in place that serve to protect workers from injury, including New York Labor Law Section 240(1).

Labor Law 240(1) allows a single construction worker to stand up against huge general contractors and property developers in court. This law requires employers and site owners to provide fall protection to workers who use ladders on the job. If your employer has failed to adhere to the laws and regulations in place for your area and you’ve been injured on the job, they could be held responsible by way of a third-party personal injury lawsuit.

Unfortunately, those involved in ladder accidents often do not have the money or power to ensure that proper safety devices are available when they show up for a job. Labor Law 240(1) and the case law developed thereunder recognizes this financial inequality between general contractors and owners on one side and individual workers on the other.

Ladder Accident Attorney in New York

If you have experienced injury after being involved in a ladder accident, you may be entitled to financial compensation. Workers are often given one choice on a job site: work with equipment given to you or get off the job site. That is the reality of construction work in New York. Workers do not have power; employers, general contractors, and owners have the power.

A worker that complains on a work site is often a fired worker. This truth is well known to construction workers in the State of New York and certainly well known to lawyers at Block O’Toole & Murphy.

Despite this reality, defense attorneys and insurance companies often try to argue this very thing: that the worker should have just demanded a different ladder and not worked on the one provided. Our clients know that this is not the reality of construction work in New York.

It is imperative to speak to a work accident lawyer that has worked with ladder accident victims to make sure that all aspects of the case are covered, and no stone is left unturned when it comes to your defense.

The experienced ladder accident attorneys at Block O’Toole & Murphy are prepared to achieve maximum compensation for you.

Our notable ladder accident case results include:

  • $8,750,000 settlement for an undocumented laborer who fell from a four-foot step ladder on his first day on the job during a building renovation
  • $5,885,000 verdict for an undocumented laborer who fell from a ladder after being instructed to position it on top of a rolling scaffold
  • $4,900,000 settlement for an electrician who fell off a wobbly ladder, thus injuring his wrist and spine
  • $4,200,000 settlement for a laborer who suffered multiple herniated discs in his lumbar spine after a rung broke on the A-frame ladder he had to use on the job
  • $3,500,000 settlement for a plumber’s assistant who suffered traumatic brain injury after tipping over on a twelve-foot A-frame ladder.
  • $3,250,000 settlement for a plumber who suffered several bone fractures and disc herniations after falling from an unsecured ladder
  • $1,750,000 settlement for a carpenter who fell from an unstable ladder, causing injury to his heel

Consult a lawyer today to receive a free consultation by calling our New York office at 212-736-5300 or fill out our online contact form. The attorneys of Block O’Toole & Murphy serve clients based in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan, Long Island, Upstate New York State and New Jersey.

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