Last month, a crane being used for construction on a lot in an affluent enclave of Hallandale Beach collapsed, leading to the death of one construction worker. The collapse occurred at approximately 9:40 AM, as the crane was being moved in the worksite, located at the 400 block of Alameda Drive in Hallandale. According to reports, the crane started to wobble during the moving process and eventually tipped over. Although the workers scattered, one was unable to flee in time and was struck by the falling crane. The crane also hit a neighboring home, causing damage to the roof and air-conditioning system. The police as well as representatives from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are investigating what may have caused the collapse, and both the crane’s driver and boom operator submitted blood samples as part of the investigation.
Unfortunately, crane-related fatalities are not uncommon. Since 2011, there have been six crane-related deaths in Florida, and according to the U.S. Department of Labor, nearly 100 people die annually in crane and derrick accidents. Following a spate of these accidents, including a 2008 incident in downtown Miami that caused two deaths, OSHA in 2010 updated its crane regulations, which had largely been unchanged since they were first enacted in 1971. In addition to promulgating regulations, OSHA also performs worksite investigations and issues citations for safety violations. However, many of these investigations occur, as in this recent incident, after an accident has already occurred.
Certain states and municipalities have implemented their own crane regulations. In fact, following a series of accidents and less than a month before the aforementioned accident in downtown Miami, Miami-Dade County issued an ordinance regulating crane inspection and operator certification. Ultimately, a federal judge ruled that certain provisions of the ordinance conflicted with OSHA regulations and were thus preempted by federal law and unenforceable. However, the Florida Legislature went a step further in 2012 when it passed House Bill 521. HB 521 preempts all local regulation of “hoisting equipment and persons operating the equipment.” Given the paucity of related state law and regulation, HB 521 in effect limits the regulation of cranes to existing federal regulation.
The niceties of crane regulation aside, death and injuries resulting from crane accidents will likely persist. Florida law regarding recovery for injuries arising from crane accidents depends on the person injured and the party or parties responsible for construction, maintenance, and operation of the crane. As we saw above, many of the people seriously injured in crane accidents are construction workers. Typically, if a worker is injured in a crane accident and his or her direct employer is the company found liable for the crane accident, the worker can only recover pursuant to Florida’s Workers’ Compensation Law. However, if the responsible party is not the worker’s direct employer, he or she can seek recovery outside of the Workers’ Compensation scheme. Given that construction sites often involve the work of sub-contractors or third party contractors and that accidents can be the result of defects in manufacture rather than an error in use, it is not unusual for the responsible party to be an entity other than the construction worker’s direct employer. In addition, third parties who incur either personal or property damage as a result of a crane accident are also not limited by the Workers’ Compensation scheme.
Whether you are an employee of a responsible party or a third-party victim, acquiring adequate compensation for serious injuries arising from a construction accident can take considerable effort and is best done with the assistance of experienced counsel. If you have been harmed by an act of possible construction site negligence and would like to discuss your rights, click here or call 1-855-800-8000 for a free evaluation with the South Florida injury attorneys at Frankl & Kominsky.