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Construction accident leads to OSHA citation, wrongful death suit

A fatal construction accident on the campus of Northwestern University that took place a year ago has led to a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the son of the deceased worker against the general contractor.

According to a police report, the accident -- which took place during the construction of a new music and communication building for the university -- came about when a crane knocked a metal beam off of the sixth floor of the building. The beam struck the construction worker, who was on the ground at the time, on his head and chest. He died in a hospital later the same day.

A six-month investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined that the general contractor for the construction project was responsible for a “serious” violation by failing to protect subcontractor employees from the risk of falling objects. A violation is considered serious under OSHA standards when it concludes that the violator knew, or should have known of a potentially life-threatening hazard.

The contractor has, according to OSHA, complied with all of the requirements placed on it under the OSHA citation.

The wrongful death lawsuit, which is presently in the discovery stage, alleges negligence on the part of the general contractor for the construction workers’ accident. Negligence claims rely on the same “knew, or should have known” standard that OSHA used in making its finding that a serious violation had occurred.

The lawsuit seeks at least $200,000 in damages, although additional claims related to lost wages and more subjective considerations such as claims for emotional distress can push any eventual award much higher than that figure if the plaintiff prevails.

This case can serve as an important reminder that it may be up to a victim’s family to hold a negligent party accountable for a fatal accident. With the support of an attorney, people can take legal action and pursue the compensation they may deserve. 

Source: The Daily Northwestern, "One year later, questions surround construction worker's death on campus," Patrick Svitek, May 15, 2014

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