When an accident occurs on a construction site, employers typically can’t be sued and workers have to obtain benefits through a workers’ compensation claim. Workers’ compensation provides for payment of certain losses such as medical bills and disability income, but it does not pay for punitive damages.
If a construction worker can sue a non-employer, however, it may be possible to obtain punitive damages for the construction site accident.
Obtaining Punitive Damages for Construction Site Accidents
Personal injury litigation allows victims of construction accidents to recover broader compensation from non-employers than the compensation available through a workers’ comp claim alone.
In most personal injury or wrongful death claims, victims are entitled to payment for their actual financial losses and compensation for their non-economic damages. Punitive damages are different. Punitive damages are meant to serve as a deterrent, to discourage future bad behaviors.
California Code Section 3294 establishes the basic framework for determining when punitive damages are appropriate in an injury claim. The relevant law states: “(a) In an action for the breach of an obligation not arising from contract, where it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice, the plaintiff, in addition to the actual damages, may recover damages for the sake of example and by way of punishing the defendant.”
The law goes on to define oppression, fraud, and malice:
- Malice means the defendant’s conduct was intended to harm the plaintiff or the defendant’s conduct was despicable and showed a “willful and conscious” disregard for safety or for the rights of others.
- Oppression is defined to include “despicable conduct,” which causes a plaintiff to suffer cruel hardship or unjust hardship. Oppression occurs when the plaintiff’s rights are disregarded.
- Fraud refers to intentionally concealing material facts or misrepresenting facts the defendant knows to be true, with the intent to cause injury or to deprive the plaintiff of any property or any legal rights.
According to California Civil Jury Instruction 3947, companies can be ordered to pay punitive damages with proof that any of their officers, directors or managing agents acted with fraud, oppression or malice. If officers, managers, or directors knew of the wrongful or malicious conduct, or approved of the conduct after the fact, this can also make a company liable for the payment of punitive damages.
Construction site accident victims who are seeking punitive damages will first need to show that a non-employer, a third party, negligently caused the accident that injured them. Once that is established, they will need to show the malice, oppression, or fraud that justifies the award of this type of damages.
Contact a Long Beach Construction Site Accident Lawyer for Help
“Your Injuries are Personal to Me”
My law practice has helped many clients to make a successful argument showing they deserve punitive damages. I will personally work hard on your case to help you show why the damages you endured justify the imposition of a penalty on the defendant.
Call the Law Office of Michael D. Waks at 888-394-1174 or use the convenient online contact form to learn more. I offer bilingual services as part of my comprehensive approach to legal representation and I am available 24/7 to talk to you about your case, so call today.
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