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Sorting out liability issues in construction accidents, P.1

In our last post, we looked briefly at a recent construction accident at the site of a Brooklyn hotel project. As we noted, the exact cause of the accident is still being determined, but construction accidents can involve a variety of circumstances which entail potential liability for a variety of parties. This includes not only workers, contractors, and equipment manufacturers, but also possibly the developers and property owners behind the project.

Notably, last week's accident prompted a public statement from the Brooklyn Trades Employers' Association targeted specifically at developers. Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, had this to say: "Far too often, irresponsible developers hire contractors who don't adhere to strict safety standards or employer highly skilled workers." Hiring substandard contractors, of course, can lead to problems, even if it saves the developer or property owner money on the front end. 

Generally speaking, New York law does hold that developers who are property owners are not liable for the negligence of a contractor and that general contractors are not liable for the negligence of subcontractors. Property owners may be found liable only in situations where injuries resulted from a dangerous condition at the work site, as opposed to the way the work was performed. In addition, the landowner, to be held liable, must have had supervision and control over the work at the site, or notice of the unsafe condition. Without that element of control, the general contractor is usually going to be held liable, depending on the relationship it has with subcontractors.

We'll look more at this issue in our next post, and why it is so important to work with an experienced attorney after being injured on a construction site.