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New York Lawyers for Trench Accidents and Collapses

trenching accidents

Trench accidents such as collapses and cave-ins do not happen often, but when they do, the results can be deadly. A cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as a small car, so when trench collapses occur, workers face a high risk of crush injuries, asphyxiation or even death. Employers have a responsibility to make sure trenches are inspected daily and appropriate safety measures are taken to prevent devastating on-the-job injuries.

For workers harmed in a trench collapse or other incident, Block O’Toole & Murphy is here to help. Our team of accident attorneys is experienced in New York Labor Laws regarding trench-related incidents and has secured millions of dollars for victims of trench accidents, including:

  • $5,500,000 settlement after a Nassau County construction worker was caught in between the excavator digging the trench and metal sheeting being used to form its perimeter
  • $4,250,000 settlement where a laborer was injured after he was knocked to the bottom of a 12-foot trench by a stack of wooden shoring planks in Brooklyn
  • $3,075,000 awarded to a Queens worker who suffered serious neck and back injuries after gravel was dropped into the trench he was working in
  • $2,100,000 settlement in a Queens case for a laborer who suffered serious foot and spine injuries when the walls of the trench he was working in collapsed, burying him up to his waist

Since 2020, Block O’Toole & Murphy secured over half a billion dollars in verdicts and settlements for clients. Receive a free legal consultation today by contacting us online or calling us at 212-736-5300.


  1. Trench Cave-Ins – Why Do They Happen?
  2. Proper Trench Inspection
  3. How Trench Accident Cases Are Proven in New York
  4. Legal Representation for Trench Accident Victims

Trench Cave-Ins – Why Do They Happen?

A trench is defined by OSHA as an underground excavation that is deeper than it is wide but is no wider than 15 feet. Trenches are inherently unstable which makes them a clear safety concern at a construction site. Therefore, designing protective systems for a trench is essential to protect workers. The type of protective system employed depends on the type of soil that comprises the trench it is. And because the type of soil can vary along the entire length, width or height of the trench, a trenches’ stability can never be assumed and must always be carefully inspected. This natural instability presents a variety of hazards, including but not limited to:

  • Misplaced Machinery and Dirt: Employers and inspectors need to be careful about how much stress is being placed on trench walls. Extra weight could come from heavy machinery or even just the pile of dirt (called a “spoil pile”) that the trench was dug from. OSHA mandates that dirt piles need to be at least two feet from the walls of a trench to prevent cave-ins.
  • Improper shoring or bracing: Trenches deeper than 5 feet require a protective system. Depending on the depth of the trench and the type of soil it is dug in, there are a few different kinds of protective systems (primarily sloping, benching, shoring and shielding) that can be employed. Whichever method is used, protective systems are a last line of defense for laborers, so any mistakes made here can often lead to devastating trench collapses.
  • Rain and Water: Water presents a very high danger to trench and excavation workers. Not only does it add extra weight, but it can also shift the position of the dirt, which may stress trench walls in unexpected ways and cause them to cave in.
  • Utility Lines: Trenches are often used to lay pipes, cables and wires, and these are often laid near existing buildings and other structures. This means laborers need to be made aware of any existing water or gas lines where they are working; otherwise, water or toxic fumes could potentially leak and harm trench workers.
  • Inadequate Access and Egress: Proper ramps, ladders and stairs need to be properly supplied and cleared of obstructions for construction workers to safely use. Ladders and other access structures must be placed within 25 lateral feet of laborers inside the trench. These and other means of access and egress are required for all trenches four feet or deeper.

Proper Trench Inspection

OSHA mandates that trenches need to be inspected daily at the start of the shift by a competent person, who has the training and experience to recognize the warning signs of a forthcoming trench collapse. This person also must have the authority to immediately act to correct any issues they find.

Duties of an OSHA-compliant inspector include but are not limited to:

  • Thoroughly testing to determine the type and quality of the soil that makes up the trench.
  • Ensure the work site is set up to minimize vibrations from heavy machinery or nearby traffic, as these vibrations can cause the soil to shift and collapse the trench
  • Construct protective systems for trenches deeper than 5 feet (also must enlist the help of a professional engineer for trenches 20 feet or deeper)
  • Contact utility companies to locate and clearly mark any underground gas, electric or water lines
  • Test for low oxygen, hazardous fumes and toxic gasses both in and around the trench
  • Provide safe access in and out of the trench
  • Inspect the trench at the start of every work shift for the presence of water, any cracking, sagging or bulging of trench walls, and any bubbling that occurs on the floor of the trench
  • Keep projects moving in an orderly fashion to keep trenches open for as little time as is necessary (gravity is the enemy of a trench, and gravity always wins eventually)

A competent inspector in compliance with OSHA regulations will be aware of these hazards and unique conditions and be able to implement measures to protect trench workers appropriately.

How Trench Accident Cases Are Proven in New York

The New York State Labor Law protects workers from dangerous conditions at construction projects. Specifically, New York State Labor Law section 241(6) requires that owners and contractors “provide reasonable and adequate protection and safety to the persons employed therein…”  This simply means that owners and contractors of construction projects are the entities responsible for worker safety.

To prove a violation of Labor Law section 241(6), a construction accident attorney must establish that the owner or contractor violated The New York State Industrial Code, 12 NYCRR Part 23. 

12 NYCRR 23-4 is the section of the Industrial Code that sets forth safety standards as they related to trenches and excavation, including 23-4.1, 23-4.2 and 23-4.4. These sections set forth safety guidelines to protect workers working in, near and around trenches. Such provisions require shoring and bracing to prevent the collapse of the sidewalls of trenches. 

They also provide the means of safe access and egress into trenches using ladders, stairways, or ramps. These code provisions also require designated people on the job site be given the responsibility to ensure that the prescribed safety precautions are being followed.   Each of these provisions are necessary to prevent accidents involving trenches, including trench collapses and workers falling into trenches. 

To establish a prima facie violation of Labor Law 241(6), the attorney must prove that the Industrial Code has been violated and that such violation created an unreasonably unsafe condition.  To meet their burden and establish a violation of the Labor Law, a construction accident lawyer must gather and analyze evidence in support of their claim. Such evidence may include accident reports, photographs and/or videos, Department of Building inspection and violation reports, Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) investigative reports, witness statements and other documents that detail the condition of the trench at the time of the accident. 

In addition to obtaining documentary evidence of a violation of Industrial Code Part 23, subdivision 4, an experienced attorney will also conduct court ordered depositions of representatives of owners and contractors where they will be questioned as to the condition of the worksite, the safety measures employed and whether the safety measures set forth in the Industrial Code have been followed.

It is through this exhaustive process obtaining evidence that there has been a violation of the Industrial Code that allows recovery by an injured worker due to trench accidents, including the collapse of trenches.

Legal Representation for Trench Accident Victims

A personal injury lawyer with thorough knowledge of New York Labor Laws and OSHA regulations can investigate a trench accident and determine if the negligence of third parties contributed to resulting injuries. If negligence is involved, victims and their families may be entitled to recover compensation for the damages they have wrongfully incurred, whether they be medical bills, lost wages or wrongful death.

The law firm of Block O’Toole & Murphy has attained over $1.5 billion in verdicts and settlements for victims hurt in accidents. If you were injured in a trench-related incident, receive a free case evaluation today by emailing us or calling 212-736-5300.

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