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Workplace deaths spark questions over potential liability

When death occurs unexpectedly, it makes little difference what the circumstances happened to be. The pain and anguish that loved ones and friends of victims endure is bound to be the same whether the death was the result of an accident in a workplace setting or outside of one.

From a legal perspective, however, a workplace accident tends to create unique conditions. This is because of general provisions of workers' compensation law that state that workers receiving workers' compensation forego the right to sue their employer for damages. To be sure of what the law is in Florida, an attorney should be consulted.

There is a generally understood exception to the rule about pursuing a civil claim for injury or wrongful death after a workplace accident. Whether it applies tends to depend on whether it can be shown that the events occurred because of negligence or improper practice by a third party company or a subcontractor.

This comes to mind in the wake of a recent construction tragedy in Raleigh, North Carolina. Three men plunged to their deaths and one suffered serious injuries when a latticed structure holding their exterior work platform gave way.

According to officials, the structure was one of two supporting what is called a mast climber device. Two of the workers who died worked for a glass installation company. The third fatal victim worked for another firm and the injured man worked for the scaffolding supply company.

All were on the site under the aegis of a general contracting company. But as of the time of this post, none of the four companies has offered public comment about what might have happened and why. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating, but it's expected to be months before any cause is determined.

Key issues expected to be explored include:

  • Whether the workers had received necessary training on the special equipment.
  • Whether correct procedures were being followed at the time of the collapse.
  • Whether the climber tower structure was properly installed and up to handling the load put upon it.
  • Or whether some product defect might have contributed to the failure.

Answers to those questions would help in making a call about the validity of any possible wrongful death claim.

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