A trench collapsed last week while workers were installing a sewage line at a Portland, Oregon home, burying a 27-year-old man, Portland firefighters said. The man died as a result of the collapse, according to OR-OSHA. The man had been working at the bottom of a trench that was 11 feet deep, 3 feet wide and 70 feet long. The worker had been outside the protection of the shoring system when the trench caved in. (Oregonian and Cal-OSHA Newsdesk.)
This sad incident underscores one of the many hazards workers continue to face in the construction industry. Trench collapses can be prevented through adequate shoring. Indeed, in this instance, there was shoring in place in part of the trench. However, the cave-in occurred in an unprotected area. How does this type of incident continue to happen? Sometimes a job site foreman will direct an employee to enter an unprotected area just for a brief moment to do a quick task. Other times, companies skip shoring to cut costs. Whatever the reason, the consequences can be devastating as they were in this situation.
In California, an employer is generally protected from any liability beyond providing workers' compensation benefits where a work place injury or death occurs. However, in some rare circumstances, an employer can be subject to additional liability where the "serious and willful misconduct" of the employer is partly responsible for the incident. This occurs where the employer's conduct is so outrageous that it is not fully protected by the exclusive remedy afforded by the workers compensation system. In addition, if a general contractor or different contractor are in some way responsible for the death of a subcontractor employee, then those other contractors can be sued for civil damages outside of the workers compensation system. Because trench collapse accidents are nearly always preventable, a thorough investigation needs to be conducted following such accidents to ascertain the cause, who was responsible and what remedies might be available to the injured worker and/or the workers surviving family.
Workplace injury lawyers like those at Butler Viadro, LLP, are experienced in investigating such matters. Should you or someone you love be involved in a workplace accident, Butler Viadro, LLP, provides a free consultation to assess what options are available: www.butlerviadro.com.