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Worst Construction Accidents in U.S. History

Posted by Emily Ruby | Jan 19, 2023 | 0 Comments

Construction accidents are sadly common in the United States where at least two workers die on the job each day on average. The four main causes of construction accident deaths, notoriously known as the "Fatal Four" are falls from heights, struck-by accidents, electrocution and incidents where caught between objects or machinery. There is no question that construction workers risk injury every day of their lives.

However, we also see that negligence is a common factor in fatal construction accidents. Construction companies and contractors attempt to take shortcuts to save time or rush the project, and such actions can lead to horrific accidents. In such cases companies tend to ignore safety regulations that have been established to ensure worker safety. When these tragic construction accidents occur, sometimes, it sets in motion a response to make working conditions safer and healthier for construction workers.

Looking at some of the worst construction accidents in U.S. history can help explain why the regulations we have today are vital and how badly we need more safeguards in place to prevent such catastrophic incidents. Let us look at three of the worst construction accidents in U.S. history and how they all demonstrate a pattern of negligence on the part of those in charge of worksites.

Willow Island Disaster

One of the worst construction accidents in the United States took place at Willow Island in West Virginia on April 27, 1978 when 51 workers were killed when a cooling tower under construction at the Pleasants Power Station collapsed. The collapse was so horrific that construction workers onsite began digging for co-workers and the Volunteer Fire Department in Belmont was turned into a temporary morgue. Reports state that many of the laborers who were killed in the collapse were only identified by the contents of their pockets.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) determined that a number of safety lapses caused the collapse. Investigators found that scaffolding was attached to concrete that had not been given enough time to cure. Bolts were missing and the existing bolts were of insufficient grade. Also, an elaborate concrete hoisting system had been modified without proper engineering review. In addition, investigators determined that contractors were rushing the construction.

New York City Crane Collapse

On March 15, 2008, a 200-foot-tall crane owned by New York Crane & Equipment collapsed during construction killing seven people and injuring 24 others. This devastating construction accident occurred when workers were attaching a new steel collar to anchor it to the building. An OSHA investigation determined that the crane manufacturer Favco's instructions for lifting a stabilizing collar to the ninth floor level were not followed and only half the number of recommended polyester slings were used. The overloaded slings failed causing the collar to drop and dislodge two lower-level collars from the building. This left the crane without any lateral support allowing it to topple. Prior to the crane accident, the New York City Department of Buildings had already issued 13 citations for safety violations at the construction site, two of which were considered serious violations.

Big Blue Crane Collapse

On July 14, 1999, the Big Blue collapsed during the construction of the Miller Park, now known as the American Family Field baseball stadium in Milwaukee, with a load of more than 450 tons on the hook. Three ironworkers were killed when the falling crane struck the suspended platform from which they were observing the lift.

A safety inspector was filming the stadium's construction on the day and captured the collapse on the video as it occurred. Wind speed was a factor as some workers had raised concerns about winds gusting at 27 mph. An investigation revealed that although the effects of side winds on the crane had been calculated, it had not been considered for the load the crane was lifting.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is workers' compensation?

All employers in California are required to carry workers' compensation insurance, which provides benefits such as medical expenses and lost wages to workers who suffer injuries on the job. Families that have lost loved ones in workplace accidents may also be able to receive death benefits through workers' comp.

What should you do if you have been injured in a construction accident?

If you are a worker who has been injured in a California construction accident, seek immediate medical attention and notify your employer about your injury as soon as possible. Save all documents related to your doctor's visits and medical treatment including bills and prescriptions. Contact an experienced California construction accident lawyer who will help protect your rights and secure maximum compensation for your losses.  You will also want to make sure that you properly file your construction injury claim as well as make an accident report.

Why do you need a lawyer?

A knowledgeable lawyer can help you identify additional sources of compensation. While you may be eligible to receive workers' compensation benefits if you are injured on the job, these benefits may not be enough to cover all your losses, especially if you've been severely injured or if you have lost a primary wage earner in a fatal construction accident. Your lawyer will be able to tell you if you have a third-party claim against an individual or entity whose negligence or wrongdoing caused the accident. Examples of third parties in construction accidents include general contractors, sub-contractors, maintenance companies, property owners and manufacturers of defective products. Third party claims are worth substantially more than workers' compensation benefits.

Getting Help After a Construction Accident

At Greenberg and Ruby Injury Attorneys, APC, we are committed to helping injured workers and their families navigate what is often a complex legal process. We work on a contingency fee basis, which means you will not pay any fees unless we secure compensation for you. If you need help with with your construction accident lawsuit, simply fill out our contact form to schedule a free consultation.  Call us for more information about pursuing your legal rights.

About the Author

Emily Ruby

2022 "Women in Law" Award Winner, Emily Ruby, specializes in complex cases, many of which involve catastrophic injuries and deaths. Mrs. Ruby has personally obtained more than $78.6 Million in compensation for her clients with an impressive 97.4% success rate.

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