Injuries are an unfortunate reality in the construction industry. When a worker is severely maimed or killed on-site, it creates a ripple effect that impacts everyone around them. The emotional distress a worker can feel at the sight of a grave accident can be immense, so much so that they may seek to recover damages from their employer. However not all cases of emotional distress are genuine, and in order to prevent frivolous litigation, the state of Florida has set necessary limits that allow workers to recover damages only in the event that an employer’s negligence led directly to the accident.
In this editorial, Florida contractor lawyers from Cotney Construction Law discuss Florida’s impact laws and how you can protect your company from being sued for emotional distress. If ever your company is under fire from legal threats, consult an experienced Florida contractor lawyer from Cotney Construction Law.
The Impact Rule
Under Florida law, a plaintiff can only recover damages for emotional distress resulting from negligence. This emotional distress must result from physical injuries sustained from an impact. At the very least, physical injury, such as an illness, must manifest from the accident. This is a sensible rule considering how hard it is to prove emotional harm in court. Without this rule, courts would be overflowing with both genuine and groundless cases.
In the event that a plaintiff is not physically impacted in the accident, it would first need to be proven that they saw, heard, or arrived at the accident as it was unfolding; anything to prove that they were involved in some way. Once this distress manifests itself physically, the individual may consider moving forward with a lawsuit. Furthermore, proving the physical impact may be unnecessary if the defendants were grossly negligent.
In order to win their case, a plaintiff must prove not only that their emotional distress resulted from the accident but also that the accident resulted from gross negligence. Despite these lofty requirements, emotional distress lawsuits must nonetheless be defended against, as one Florida construction company recently discovered.
On Aug. 29, 2019, two construction workers were pouring concrete at the JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort when the scaffolding beneath them collapsed. They plunged 80 feet to their deaths, which were witnessed by a third worker who managed to step off the scaffolding just before it failed. The construction company involved is now being sued for $15,000 in damages, and the worker claims that they failed to take steps to ensure a safe work environment.
For many construction companies, $15,000 may seem like a drop in the bucket; however, this comes on the heels of three Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations totaling $144,532. OSHA officials stated that the companies involved “failed to properly inspect formwork, shoring, working decks and scaffolds on the project prior to construction.”
Related: Important OSHA Facts
In cases like these, it’s typical for insurance to pay a large part of the settlement; however, that’s not always the case. Contractors often have the best deal in mind when buying insurance policies, leaving many contractors vulnerable to threats they’re not aware of. This highlights why it’s so important for construction companies to work with an experienced legal team.
How to Protect Your Company
As we’ve covered previously, the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970 states that each employer “shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” This statement is, unfortunately, extremely vague, and there are countless requirements that you must abide by as an employer. Try as you might to provide a hazard-free workplace, there will undoubtedly be rules and regulations that you are unfamiliar with. Your best bet for avoiding claims of negligence is to partner with an attorney from our construction law firm.
At Cotney Construction Law, not only can our Florida construction attorneys effectively represent you in the event of an emotional distress lawsuit, but they can also help you avoid OSHA fines and claims of gross negligence. Remember, emotional distress lawsuits are like any other lawsuit and must be defended against in order to protect your company and its reputation. If ever a lethal accident takes place on your jobsite, be sure to consult the team of attorneys at Cotney Construction Law.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.