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21-Year-Old Man Dies After Falling 40-Feet from Forklift Due to "Mechanical Failure"

A 21-year-old Belleville, New Jersey man died after sustaining injuries in a fall from a forklift on Friday.  According to the Star Ledger, the man was working at a construction site at the Castle Banquet Hall on Route 23 in Pequannock, New Jersey.  The worker was standing on a wooden pallet on the fork end of the forklift when an apparent mechanical failure occurred and the fork end detached, causing the man to plummet about 40 feet.  OSHA investigators have confirmed that the forklift was being used improperly as OSHA continues its investigation.

This tragedy serves to underscore a major difference in the laws governing construction site safety in New York and New Jersey.  In New Jersey, a worker injured or killed in the manner reported could be barred from a lawsuit unless it can be shown that a company or person - not his employer or co-employee - was negligent and their negligence was a substantial factor in causing the accident.  This is because New Jersey does not have any equivalent law to New York's Labor Laws which were designed to protect workers from height-related hazards at construction sites. 

Commonly known as the "Scaffold Law," New York Labor Law 240(1) offers financial protection to construction workers who have suffered elevation-related injuries. The labor law places absolute liability-meaning that liability is imposed regardless of fault–on the property owner and general contractor when a worker suffers an injury due to a fall from elevation or is struck by a falling object. By placing absolute liability on general contractors and property owners, the labor law essentially provides construction workers compensation for damages for most elevation-related injuries.

While New York Labor Law 240(1) places absolute liability on general contractors and property owners, it does not guarantee an injured worker compensation for their damages. While absolute liability, in theory, automatically entitles a worker to compensation, it does not prevent property owners and construction companies from challenging the injured individual's claim. In many cases, property owners and general contractors will do whatever they can to avoid paying additional compensation to an injured worker; including denying that their injury was elevation-related. As a result, construction workers who have suffered elevation-related injuries should seek the counsel of a lawyer with experience handling lawsuits involving falls from heights at construction sites.

Have you suffered an injury while working at a construction site? Do you believe you have a lawsuit under New York Labor Law 240(1) or 241(6)? If so, call 212-406-1700 or contact us online for a free consultation. Queller, Fisher, Washor, Fuchs & Kool will review your claim to see how they may be able to help you.

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