A recent Associated Press article about the deaths of two workers building a new luxury hotel in the Orlando area caught my eye because it is relevant to workplace safety discussions that often take place here in Oregon.
According to the news agency, “two construction workers fell to their deaths when scaffolding collapsed as they were pouring concrete on the seventh floor or a 16-story hotel under construction near Disney World.” A fire and rescue spokesman is quoted saying that the scaffolding “gave way” for reasons that are still under investigation, “sending two workers plummeting to the ground below.” The hotel being built was a Marriott, and it was a spokesman for the Marriott corporation who addressed the media in the wake of the accident. As is often the case in the hotel industry, however, actual ownership of the building lies elsewhere. According to the AP the building is actually “owned and developed by DCS investment holdings, a private equity group based in West Palm Beach, Florida.” DCS is also managing the construction project itself, according to the news agency.
While the article does not explicitly make this point, it is also fair to assume that a number of subcontractors are also involved. We do not know for certain whether one of those might be a scaffolding company, but such an arrangement would be the norm throughout much of the construction industry.
We therefore have a large number of entities with at least some potential liability for these workplace deaths. Had this accident taken place here in Oregon a key legal tool in assessing liability would be the Kilminster Standard. The name references a 1996 Oregon Supreme Court case (Kilminster v Day Management Corp (323 Or. 618)) which held that workman’s compensation laws do not insulate an employer from negligent conduct leading to a worker’s death or serious injury. Kilminster focused on an employer that failed to provide necessary safety equipment to its employees, but the precedent it established extends to both contractors and subcontractors. This is a key consideration in determining who, exactly, was negligent in a situation like this and whether or not an Oregon wrongful death claim is legitimate as a result.
The key point for Oregonians to understand when accidents like this occur is that the law creates a chain of responsibility. Lead contractors are obligated to ensure that the subcontractors they hire are operating in a safe and legal manner. This would include subcontractors, such as a scaffolding company, that may only be supplying materials. Failure to carry out this sort of on-going due diligence is a serious legal matter.
As an Oregon wrongful death lawyer one of my most important jobs is helping families navigate complex legal situations like this. Determining where responsibility and negligence truly lie in these situations is rarely straightforward, but it should come as a relief to many people to know that our court system is here to help them during difficult and emotionally trying times.
Associated Press: Fire Dept: 2 workers die in scaffolding collapse near Disney
Justia.com: Kilminster v Day Management Corp (323 Or. 618)
ORS 30.020: Action for Wrongful Death
ORS 654.305: Protection and safety of persons in hazardous employment generally