Articles Posted in Construction Site Accidents & Injuries

In my previous post on this subject, I wrote of a case now pending in Middlesex Superior Court against Wal-Mart Corp., following the electrocution death of a laborer at its Walpole, Massachusetts store. In my previous post, I spoke briefly about the tangled web of business entities that Wal-Mart apparently used in this project, and in almost all its construction and renovation projects. I’ll examine that more at length here.

According to published reports, Walmart hired a general contractor by the name of Kekoka Construction to oversee the renovation project at its Walpole store. Kekoka Construction is based in Texas. Kekoka Construction hired a Massachusetts-based construction supervisor and apparently paid him $11,000.00 to “pull” (obtain) a building permit from the Town of Walpole, after which he did almost nothing in terms of construction site supervision of the project. This practice is otherwise referred to as hiring a “straw”, whose sole function is to do something formal or official like pulling a building permit, and then disappear from view. Walmart’s general contractor, Kekoka Construction, then apparently hired an electrical subcontractor, a company named T&M Electrical of Arkansas. T&M Electrical, then apparently hired its own “straw”, a Connecticut man with a Massachusetts’ electrician’s license, to pull electrical work permits from the Town of Walpole. Stare investigators have reportedly concluded that this man, who as the person obtaining the electrical permits was responsible for overseeing the actual electrical work, was never seen at the worksite. Mr. Santos was hired along with other workers by another subcontractor, Italo Masonry.

Sound confusing enough yet? It gets even more so: It turns out that Walmart’s general contractor, Kekoka Construction, was formed about ten years ago by Walmart solely for the purpose of supervising construction at Walmart sites. In other words, Kekoka Construction is a creation of Walmart; an “arm” of it. Legally speaking, this is referred to as a “corporate alter ego.” Largely for this reason, the attorney representing the family of the victim who was killed at the Walpole site, is not only suing the electrical subcontractor and various related parties, but is also suing Walmart directly. As a Boston, Massachusetts construction site accident attorney, I welcome this approach. Walmart was apparently at the top of this pyramid, and though they have apparently taken deft steps to separate Kekoka Construction from itself in a formal, technical sense, as a Dedham, Massachusetts accident attorney, I think a strong legal argument can be made here that the two companies were essentially one for the purposes of this case. Achieving this legal objective in litigation is called “piercing the corporate veil,” and with good reason: Huge corporations like Wal-Mart try to hide their real actions all the time by setting up other corporate entities to carry out business objectives that for various legal and public relations reasons they themselves don’t want to be “out in front” on. I wish the attorney for Mr. Santos’ family the best of luck in this fight. It won’t be an easy one, but corporations like Wal-Mart – and the other defendants involved as well – need to be made to pay for the dangerous and unethical games that were apparently played here.

A case that’s now pending in Middlesex Superior Court involving the death of a construction worker helping to renovate a Walmart in Walpole, Massachusetts illustrates the serious dangers facing many Massachusetts construction site workers.

As a Boston, Massachusetts construction site accident lawyer, I know how awful some of these injuries can be, and the lifelong effects they can leave on the victims of these accidents. The Walpole Walmart case makes it gravely clear just how dangerous these Massachusetts construction site injuries can be: Death. But in addition to this fact, the case also makes clear just how tangled the lines of corporate involvement and responsibility can be, and just how challenging it can be on a legal level, to hold the responsible parties accountable. In no small part, this is because there are typically multiple corporate parties involved in a Massachusetts construction site accident: These typically include: 1) The owner of the real estate; 2) The retail tenant or the developer; 3) A general contractor; and 4) multiple subcontractors.

In the case of the death that resulted at the Walpole Walmart, this tangled web was no exception. The victim who died from electrocution, Romulo de Oliveira Santos of Brazil, was working with a masonry crew to tear down a cement wall, when he was electrocuted. But it was several actions and events preceding the day that Mr. Santos was killed, that brought his life to an end. I’ll address those events in my next post on this subject.

Most people who walk past a construction site think that the construction workers on the job there are probably very rarely injured, since that’s their line of work and they “know what they’re doing.” The truth is, Massachusetts construction site injuries are quite common. The work in general is very dangerous, and even though a construction worker can have years of experience in that industry, the physical environments are usually ripe for serious injuries to occur.

A reminder of that was made clear in a recent injury settlement reported by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. Specifically, a 42-year-old roofer who belonged to a union tripped and fell on a piece of slate which was not cleared from the staging on a job site. The plaintiff was employed by a general contractor, which was hired by the property owner to strip the old roof surface and replace it with slate. The defendant in the case was hired by the general contractor to be the subcontractor responsible for stripping the old slate. The plaintiff alleged serious injuries in his suit. The defendant’s main defense was that it was unclear exactly who left the left the slate un-removed from the site, it or the general contractor, since both the general contractor and the defendant were handling the slate at the time of the injury. The defendant argued that the plaintiff could not prove that the defendant was the party at fault in the accident. While causation in these cases it sometimes hard to prove, as a Boston, Massachusetts personal injury attorney, I can assure you that with a talented attorney and the right invesitgative approach, the responsible party can almost always be identified.

Massachusetts construction site accidents can cause extremely serious, lifelong injuries. A great many of them involve injuries resulting from falls, or injuries involving dangerous machinery, which can sometimes involve product liability claims. Regardless, if you or someone you know has been involved in a construction site accident, call us Ph.: (781) 320-0062 or Ph.: (617) 285-3600, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or email us. We’ll provide you with a free initial consultation and let you know what your best legal options are.

When someone is injured, one of the first questions that must be answered, among others, is whether or not the injury took place in connection with the victim’s employment. If the injury inarguably took place at work or while on the job, then the expertise of a Massachusetts workers compensation lawyer is needed. If the injury did not take place at work, then the injured victim should seek the advice of an experienced Massachusetts personal injury laywer.

Sometimes, the issue of whether an injury occurred on the job or off, isn’t so clear-cut. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) is now considering a case that could have a significant impact on the liability of contractors and subcontractors for Massachusetts construction site accidents and Massachusetts personal injuries. The case, Wentworth v. Becker, stems from a 2005 explosion at a home construction site in Newburyport, Massachusetts, in which a father and son were critically injured. The father, Timothy Wentworth, 51 at the time, died from burns he suffered in the explosion. His son Ezekiel, then 24, survived but suffered severe, disfiguring burns. The Wentworths were spraying a waterproofing material at a home construction site when a pilot light from a water heater ignited fumes from the spray.

According to records filed in the case, a Newburyport builder by the name of Henry C. Becker hired the Wentworth’s’ North Berwick, Maine, company as a subcontractor on the Newburyport construction job. The Wentworths’ company did not carry workers’ compensation insurance, which pays for medical costs and lost wages when a worker is injured or killed while on the job. Massachusetts law, specifcally M.G.L. Chapter 152, requires most employers to provide workers’ compensation insurance to employees and also requires most employers to make sure that subcontractors are covered in most situations. The Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents administers most of these regulations. Cheryl Wentworth, widow of Timothy and mother of Ezekiel, filed a workers’ compensation claim against Becker, asserting that he had permitted an uninsured subcontractor to work on the job. Becker’s company agreed to a settlement in that claim, according to court records. Cheryl Wentworth later hired a Massachusetts personal injury lawyer (note: not this firm,) to sue Becker on top of the previous workers compensation claim, alleging negligence in the death of her husband and the injuries that her son suffered, and that’s where things got really thorny. Becker fought the suit in court, arguing that Massachusetts law doesn’t allow subcontractors such as the Wentworths, to collect workers’ compensation insurance and maintain a Massachusetts personal injury suit for damages. Becker argued that under the “exclusivity provision” of the Massachusetts Workers Compensation statute – an injured worker must choose one forum (a personal injury suit) or the other (a workers’ compensation claim, which is a much more streamlined, administrative process.) Becker argues that the Wentworths could not choose both, and that they had already chosen a workers compensation claim. Two years ago, an Essex County Superior Court judge, Thomas R. Murtagh, found in favor of Becker.