Scaffold injuries, which are caused by scaffold accidents, may result in severe impairment or loss of the ability to work. The Workers Compensation Attorney Group in Orange County can offer you legal advice and representation needed to seek compensation for such injuries. Our company operates across Orange County, CA, helping victims of work-related injuries. We prepared this definitive guide to help you understand scaffold injuries and the legal processes involved in seeking compensation for the injuries.
California Laws on Scaffold Injuries
The existing California workers’ compensation law (Labor Code 4663) mandates employers to cover injuries suffered by their employees at the course of their employment. Your employer is liable for only the percentage of permanent disability you suffer from a work-related injury such as a scaffold injury. Labor Code 4663 highlights that permanent disability should be apportioned based on the causation of an injury, which could be determined by a certified physician.
Pursuant to Labor Code 4663(c)(3), the physician is mandated to give the reasons why he/she can not determine the causes of the disability suffered from an injury. The physician is also expected to consult with other physicians from whom you are authorized to seek evaluation or treatment. Labor Code 4663 generally indicates that an injury can only be considered as a work-related one upon medical evaluation. For the case of a scaffold injury, the factors that exposed you to the injury can help determine whether you were injured and the classification of the injury.
Cal/OSHA Regulations on Scaffolds
Cal/OSHA, which is California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, is on the mission to protect and improve the health and safety of workers and passengers. The agency sets and enforces standards, provides outreach and education and issues permits, certifications and licenses. The design and construction of scaffolds in California must conform to the requirements and standards of Construction Safety Order 1637.
Scaffolds must be designed to support their weight and four times the weight of the maximum load pursuant to Construction Safety Order 1627(b). A qualified person should also supervise the erection or dismantlement to avoid accidents that may result in scaffold injuries. Property owners need a permit from Cal/OSHA, under CSO 341(d)(5)(b) to erect or dismantle scaffolds exceeding 36ft in height or three stories. They should provide scaffolds to employees for work that cannot be done safely from ladders.
Workers exposed to overhead hazards while working on scaffolds should be provided means that can eliminate the risk effectively under CSO 1637(q). Such methods may include the provision of overhead protective structures. An overhead protective structure is designed for live loads and dead loads in compliance with California's Construction Safety Orders. The types of scaffolds recognized under these laws include:
Window jack scaffolds
Ladder jack scaffolds
Outrigger and bracket scaffolds
Tower and rolling scaffolds
Understanding the Causes of Scaffold Injuries
Scaffold accidents may arise from negligence (on the side of property owners or operators) or defective equipment. Such accidents get hundreds of people injured every year in California. Majority of scaffold injuries are usually caused by being struck by falling objects, slip, and fall accidents or weakened supports/planking.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates property owners to train their employees in scaffold safety. OSHA also mandates them to set up secured planking or supports to prevent employees from slipping and falling when walking on a scaffolding. Rusted or damaged scaffolding or rotten wood on the scaffolding should be replaced to prevent the structure from collapsing. Other causes for scaffold injuries include lack of supervision, scaffolding touching electric wires and scaffold roofing accidents.
A defective scaffolding may collapse and make you suffer severe injuries even when it is set up in the right way. Typical instances of structural flaws in scaffolds include broken pins on frames, severe overloading and under extended or overextended planks. Others may include legs that are not plumb, scaffold not tied correctly to a building and improperly supported or missing base plates. The platform slope exceeding the maximum requirement and braces that are not secure may increase your likelihood of suffering scaffold injuries.
Besides product defects, other causes for scaffold collapses include overloading and improper installation of the equipment. When the scaffolding collapses, you and other people in the vicinity of the equipment may end up being severely injured. Construction companies must enact proper policies and rules regarding scaffolding weight limits and scaffolding installation at their sites.
Scaffold collapses may arise due to slippery platforms, missing toe boards, and improper access. The scaffold can also collapse if the platforms are not fully planked and the middle and top guardrails are missing. You may expect the structure to dismantle if a trained person was not consulted or substandard planks were used in its construction.
You may be exposed to severe electrical shock risks when you climb a scaffolding that is too close to a power line. Other causes of electrical hazards include the presence of damaged or ungrounded tools on the scaffold and poor on-site electrical wiring procedures. Your injuries may get severe if you were not wearing personal protective gears such as rubber boots at the time of the scaffold accident. Electrical shocks are also likely to result in death when the exposure time is long, or the amount of current is extremely high.
Most construction sites use scaffolding to make work transpire at different levels. Such sites expose the employees to struck-by accidents, which are caused by debris or construction tools falling from one level to another. You may suffer a scaffold injury when debris falls and strikes you.
Slips and Falls
Scaffoldings are usually set at great heights to facilitate the construction of tall buildings. Working at heights may expose you to a slip or fall accident, which may result in injuries or even death. The injuries may be severe if the construction site does not have adequate fall protection measures in place.
A property owner's mandate is to ensure that a property is safe to those who are legally working or operating in it. The owner is also responsible for ensuring that the scaffolding is safe for use. The California premises liability laws (Civil Code 1714(a)) mandate property owners to repair damaged equipment or conditions or warn people about the potential dangers. Breaching such laws is considered as an act of negligence.
How are Scaffold Injuries Classified?
Scaffold injuries can be classified by evaluating the cause of the injury and the body tissue type that has been damaged. Scaffold injuries classified based on their causative factors that fall into categories including overuse injury, direct injury and indirect injury. Consequently, those classified based on the damaged body tissue fall into hard-tissue and soft-tissue injury categories. These classifications are discussed below:
An external force or blow may cause a direct scaffold injury. You may experience this type of injury when you collide with another person or be struck with a falling object on a scaffold. Examples of direct injuries include bone fractures, dislocations, ligament damage, bruises, and hematomas.
An indirect scaffold injury may occur at a certain distance from the accident site. Such an injury does not necessarily have to result from being in contact with a person or an object. The internal forces established by the object or another person’s actions may lead to you being injured. Examples of indirect injuries include muscle strains and tears and ligament sprains.
Applying excessive and repetitive force on your bones or other connective tissues of your body may expose you to overuse injuries. In the case of a scaffold accident, an overuse injury may arise from exposing a part of your body to harm excessively or repetitively while on a scaffold. As the damage accumulated, the injured part will become inflamed and cause pain.
Causes of overuse injuries include defective equipment and poorly planned workplace programs. Examples of overuse scaffold injuries include elbow injuries, which are caused by placing extra stress on your elbow. Others include tendonitis (tendon inflammation) and minor bone fractures.
Soft-tissue injuries are among the most common injuries you can experience from a scaffold accident. They involve strains and tears of ligaments, tendons, muscles and the skin. A soft-tissue injury may cause swelling or internal bleeding depending on its severity. You’re likely to suffer them around the head/neck, shoulder, arm, elbow or knee.
Hard-tissue injuries involve damage to the skeleton bones. They range from severe joint dislocations and fractures to bone bruises. You may suffer a hard-tissue injury from a scaffold accident when a direct force (such as a falling object) gets into contact with you and bruises your bone. Such an incident may result in internal bleeding in the bone and the surrounding damaged tissue. If you fail to get medical care promptly, the injury may cause severe circulatory complications.
Examples of Scaffold Injuries
Scaffold accidents caused by defective equipment or negligence may expose you to various types of injuries. The severity of the injuries depends on the type of scaffold accident that occurred. Common examples of scaffold injuries are discussed below:
Falling and slipping from a scaffold may expose you to severe or minor head injuries. Symptoms of head injuries may include bleeding, swelling and brief loss of consciousness. You are likely to recover fast from a minor concussion than a severe traumatic brain injury, which can alter your brain's function permanently. Since it is irrational to diagnose head injuries based on symptoms alone, a doctor's intervention may help you recover and establish a cause for a lawsuit.
A common example of a head injury is a concussion, which occurs when your head hits a static or moving object. Though not all concussions result in loss of consciousness, they are likely to make you experience a headache and feel drowsy. Other symptoms of a concussion include memory loss, seeing flashing lights, feeling of confusion and nausea and vomiting. The injury may be considered severe if its symptoms include seizures, repeated vomiting, balance/walking problems or coma.
Soft Tissue Injuries
Though they are not outwardly visible, soft tissue injuries are likely to arise from a scaffold accident involving slips and falls. You may find them difficult to prove in your workers' compensation lawsuit unless you have a medical examination done on you. You may also not realize that you have a soft tissue injury since symptoms take time to show.
Soft tissue injuries may include tears in the ligaments and tendons and wrist and ankle sprains. If left untreated, they may result in chronic pain and increase your exposure risks to subsequent injuries. You also need to seek urgent medical care after a fall or slip whether the symptoms of a soft tissue injury show or not.
Also known as tendonitis, tendinitis is an irritation or inflammation of a tendon (a thick cord attaching your bone to a muscle). You are likely to suffer this injury when you use a scaffold repetitively to paint or access high sections of a building. Incorrect posture when working on a scaffold can also trigger tendinitis. The condition may affect your knee, hip, Achilles tendon, shoulder, elbow or thumb base.
Spinal Cord Injuries
A scaffold accident may result in your spinal cord being compressed or severed. Spinal cord injuries are life-threatening and require a combination of medical care and treatment. You will also spend thousands of dollars trying to get them remedied. At the course of your treatment, it may take time for your back to regain its stability depending on the severity of the spinal cord injury.
Spinal cord injuries suffered on the upper side of your spinal cord usually cause more severe damages. You may even be paralyzed a scaffold injury exposes you to a cervical spinal cord injury. Injuries experienced in the lower spinal cord area may lead to the paralysis of your lower limb or milder symptoms such as mild backaches.
Cuts and Abrasions
Scaffolding equipment that has not been erected properly can increase your chances of getting into an accident and suffering cuts or abrasions. You may suffer the cuts and abrasions on your hips or head depending on your posture at the time of the accident. The severity of these injuries will also depend on whether you were wearing personal protective gears at the accident scene.
Breaking a bone in your body is a painful, scary and frustrating experience. Though broken bones may range from minor to severe fractures, they require various forms of treatment including surgery. Your physician may also recommend long-term therapy to prevent you from suffering neuromuscular dysfunction and experiencing chronic pain.
One misconception people have regarding this injury is that a bone is not considered broken until you are unable to move the affected area. The genuine way to diagnose a broken bone is through an X-ray. Broken bones may result in swelling or extensive bleeding within the first 12 hours of getting injured.
A bone bruise is a less severe form of a bone fracture that you can suffer when exposed to a traumatic scaffold accident. The human bone comprises of various types of tissue, with the periosteum being the thin tissue layer occupying a large surface area of the bone. When bones get into contact, the edges are usually covered with a layer of cartilage. A bone bruise may make blood and fluids to leak into nearby blood vessels and tissues.
A bone fracture affects the inside part of the bone containing fibrous tissue and bone marrow known as the trabeculae. On the other hand, a bone bruise only affects parts of the trabeculae. The injury may cause blood to build up in the tissue area covering a bone. Symptoms of a bone bruise include swelling and bleeding in the area between your cartilage and the surrounding bone.
A joint dislocation may occur when the ends of your bones are forced out of position. You may suffer this injury when you fall from a scaffold or get hit with a falling object on a scaffold. Dislocated joints are usually painful, visibly out of place and swollen. You will also experience difficulty trying to move the affected organ, which may include your elbow, shoulder, knee or ankle.
Chances are that you are likely to dislocate your kneecap or shoulder again after recently suffering a dislocated joint. Wearing personal protective gears when working on scaffolds can help prevent joint dislocations. The treatment for this kind of injury may include rehabilitation, bone reposition, a splint/sling or medicine depending on the severity of the injury.
Knee injuries and disorders may arise from a scaffold accident that inflicts a direct blow to your knee or causes an abnormal twisting on your knee. Your knee injury may be characterized by ligament tears, kneecap fractures, sprains and strains or kneecap, and knee joint dislocation. When exposed to another scaffold accident, your previous knee injury may lead to permanent/temporary disability, inflammation or tendon tears.
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
The cubital tunnel syndrome is likely to arise from stretching or putting pressure on your ulnar nerve. The ulnar nerve is a nerve running in a groove inside the elbow. Such a condition is characterized by tingling or numbness in the small and ring fingers, weakness in the hand and pain in the forearm. Since most of the work conducted using a scaffold involves stretching your elbow or leaning on your arm for a long time, you are likely to suffer this kind of injury.
What are the Exceptions to Scaffold Injuries?
While it is important to seek compensation for a scaffold injury, certain exceptions may get your claim denied. For instance, if you were intoxicated while scaffolding or injured while committing a felony, you are not eligible for workers' compensation. Once you claim a scaffold injury, it's your employer's duty to prove that one of the following exceptions prevent you from being compensated:
Intentionally Causing a Scaffold Injury on Yourself
Intentionally injuring yourself while on the scaffolding can make your workers' compensation get denied. An intentional scaffold injury may indicate that you had a deliberate intent to cause harm on yourself. You may challenge this allegation by arguing that, though your actions were intentional, you didn't try to injure yourself.
Employers usually have strict policies regarding intoxication at workplaces. You may not qualify for a workers’ compensation if you were intoxicated at the time you suffered a scaffold injury. Intoxication, in this case, maybe as a result of taking a drug or consuming alcohol. Having drugs or alcohol in your system may impair your judgment and ability to use workplace equipment properly.
As a family member to a loved one who committed suicide on a scaffolding, you may not receive the workers’ compensation. For this exception to work, the cause of suicide should be non-work-related. An investigation report from the local police department can help make such a conclusion.
Committing a Felony
You cannot claim a scaffold injury when you were injured committing a felony offense on scaffolding. You will only be denied the workers’ compensation benefits once convicted of the felony offense. A felony conviction is the only way to prove that you were guilty of committing a felony at your workplace.
Voluntarily Engaging in an Off-duty Recreational Activity
Some employers organize outside-of-work events focused on purely social reasons. Being injured in a voluntary non-work-related event taking place at your workplace can make you ineligible for workers’ compensation benefits. However, if your employer made it mandatory for you to attend the event, you may claim the benefits.
Get Help in Seeking Compensation for Scaffold Injuries From an Attorney Near Me
Since a scaffold injury may suddenly change your life and career, seeking compensation helps you relieve the burden of coping with the injury. The Workers Compensation Attorney Group in Orange County has the expertise to help you file a workers' compensation claim in Orange County, CA. Our attorneys will discuss with you the available options and how to best pursue them. Call our Orange County work injury lawyer at 562-485-9694 to schedule a free, expert consultation with us today.