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Trench Digging and Dirt Excavation Cave-In Accidents

If you or a loved one suffered injuries in a trench digging and collapsing accident, you may be able to recover compensation for your injuries from the company responsible for the collapse. That is especially true if a third party failed to abide by applicable laws and regulations, resulting in injuries or death to a construction worker.

Trenching and Excavation Cave-Ins

Trenching and Excavation is Dangerous Work

One cubic yard of soil weighs as much as 3,000 pounds (the weight of a car or small truck). The sheer mass of soil in a collapse often results in severe injury or death.

If a worker survives a trench collapse, injuries often cause life-altering permanent disabilities. Trenching accidents cause serious injuries:

  • Crush injuries to soft tissue and bones
  • Suffocation from collapsing soil
  • Asphyxiation from improper ventilation
  • Drowning in a water-filled trench
  • Electrocution through contact with underground utilities
  • Brain injury from toxic fumes in a confined space

Problems with Digging Dirt

Excavation is one of the most dangerous construction activities. A trench collapse on a worker causes serious injuries and is often fatal. Trench digging injuries occur to workers in many ways.

  • Trench collapse
  • Workers struck by heavy equipment while in a trench
  • Workers falling into unmarked trenches
  • Workers struck by objects falling into the trench
  • Workers electrocution
  • Workers injured by excavation-related explosions
  • Workers injured when trying to rescue a fellow worker

Liability for Trench Digging Accidents

State and Federal Laws Control Construction Work

Trenching accidents are preventable when applicable federal and state safety regulations are followed. Core safety rules are at WAC 296-800. Washington State excavation operations are directed by L&I’s Occupational Safety and Health division. DD27.30 summarizes the regulations.

Trenching regulations require specific measures to prevent collapses in WAC 296-155-657(2)(a), including:

  • Sloping or benching trench walls
  • Shoring trench walls with supports
  • Shielding trench walls with trench boxes
  • Providing supervision by a competent person

Who is Responsible for Trenching Accidents? Who will Pay?

When the safety methods required by law are not followed, someone may be liable. But how do you know which company or person to sue?

By the nature of construction, multiple people and companies are involved in a project, including trench digging and other excavation activities.

  • General contractor and their employees
  • Subcontractors and their employees
  • Equipment suppliers and operators
  • Land Owners
  • Registered Professional Engineers

What are the Major Safety Rules that Determine Fault?

General contractors and subcontractors and their employees are required to provide workers with a safe work site and to abide by WISHA regulations requiring use of protective systems to prevent collapse. Failure to comply with the regulations can impose liability. The regulations address a wide range of preventive measures for contractors and subcontractors. Some of the regulations are set out below.

  • Using adequate protective and prevention methods
  • Providing prompt response after a cave, WAC 296-155-035(9)
  • Designating a competent person to assess, inspect for, and correct hazards, WAC 296-155-800
  • Implementing a written safety and health accident prevention program (APP) with excavation policies, WAC 296-155-110 (2)
  • Providing training to employees, WAC 296-155-100 (1)(c)
  • Providing necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), WAC 296-155-160 & WAC 296-800
  • Having utilities located and marked
  • Inspecting equipment and machinery
  • Providing safe access and egress, WAC 296-155-655
  • Addressing confined space concerns, WAC 296-809

Determining the cause and person(s) responsible for a trench collapse or other trenching injuries requires substantial investigation and analysis. Assistance from an experienced personal injury attorney can make a difference in your case.

What Causes Trench Collapse and Cave-Ins?

Failure to follow OSHA and WISHA rules protecting workers. Here are some of the protective rules excavators need to follow:

  • Slope trench for stability.
  • Cut trench in stepped, benched grades for some types of soil only.
  • The walls of the trench are supported by a system of posts, beams, shores, or planking and hydraulic jacks.
  • A trench box is provided to shield and protect workers.
  • All materials and equipment are kept at a minimum of 2 feet back from the trench.
  • A safe way to exit is provided within 25 feet of workers.
  • When conditions change, a competent person must inspect trenches daily.

Legal Claims Available to You for Trenching and Digging Injuries

L&I Claim

L&I Claims are no fault. You don't have to prove fault to file a successful L&I claim.

L&I claims come in two different varieties. Injuries and occupational diseases received in trenching accidentes frequently are severe and have lifelong consequences. Loss of limbs and permanent disability are common.

  • Injuries occur when the effects of an accident are immediate. Fall into a trench and break your arm, and you have an injury L&I claim.
  • Occupational Diseases occur over time. Jack hammering and vibrating equipment cause physical problems over time. They have an occupational disease L&I claim.

L&I Benefits

If there is a serious injury, occupational disease, or death on the job, there will be L&I benefits which may include:

  • Pension
  • Time Loss
  • Medical treatment
  • Disability settlements
  • Job training

Third-Party Claims

  • What is a Third Party Claim? A third party claim is on on the job or occupational disease that creates two claims.
  • If a third parties’ negligence causes a job injury or death, then there may be two claims, the L&I claim and a third-party claim.
  • If your L&I injury or occupational disease was caused by someone not your employer or co-employee, or if you were hired through a temporary agency, you may have a third-party claim.

Are Third Party Claims Like L&I Claims?

  • No, The proof requirement is very different. Only the facts are the same. Someone needs to be at fault and you need to prove it to win a third party claim. Both the federal and Washington State governments strictly regulate the wood products industry. Many of the regulations relate to safety requirements and practices. If an accident happens somebody probably did something wrong.
  • Claim Remedies are also different. You can recover more benefits with a third party claim then an L&I claim.

Who are these third-parties?

Third-parties are persons or companies that caused your injuries. If they are not your employer and are not your co-worker, then they are a third party. If they are a manufacuter or a product that has caused you injury, they are a third party.

What is a third party claim worth? Damages include:

  • Medical and hospital expenses
  • Pain and suffering
  • Future medical treatment and care
  • Lost wages
  • Loss of future earning capacity
  • Permanent injury or disability

WISHA Safety Standards

There are important safety standards that apply to trenching. They can help you improve the value of your claim. Consider enlisting their support to help you prove your third party third party claim.

Wrongful Death

If a family member died from a logging or mill accident, the compensation in a wrongful death action is different. These cases include damages for the estate and for beneficiaries as determined by state law.

The estate can recover for:

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Medical and hospital costs
  • Pain and suffering prior to death
  • Lost wages

Beneficiaries in a wrongful death action recover for:

  • Lost future financial support
  • Lost companionship and care
  • The beneficiary’s own pain and suffering
  • Widows pension with an on the job death

Who Pays for Trench and Cave-In Accidents?

  • The circumstances of the accident will determine who pays.
  • L&I is the usual first payer. They pay L&I benefits on a no fault bases. If there is a third party claim they will want their money back from any successful third party claim.
  • The Third Party and their insurance companies pay for the third party claims if you can win the third party claim in court.

How to Win a Third Party Claim

Making the determination of who is responsible for injuries or death from a trench collapse or cave-in third party claim requires complex analysis of the accident circumstances and a complete understanding of the legal relationship of the parties to each other. It also requires analysis of the applicable federal and state laws and regulations. You will benefit from a smart and experienced injury attorney to help you make that analysis.

Regardless of who may be legally liable, there will be insurance companies involved. They are likely to be big insurance companies with plenty of resources, including seasoned lawyers. There often is more than one insurance company. Want to win your third party claim? Hire a lawyer.

What to Do If You're Injured in a Trench Digging Accident

  • Get Medical Care If you suffer injuries in a trenching accident, the first and most important thing to do immediately is get proper medical attention. That includes getting a full medical evaluation of the extent of your injuries, some of which may not be immediately apparent, such as brain injuries.
  • Manage Your L&I Claim Take care of your L&I claim and it will take care of you. Make smart decisions. Get your benefits. Get well soon and get legal help if you need it.
  • Carefully Consider a Third Party Claim Third party claims can be worth a lot of money. Know what you are doing with this and make good decisions. This could be one of the most important decisions you will ever make. This is wehre you will want a good legal mind helping you. You need to know if you have a good thrid party claim and what you are going to do about it.

It you are lucky enough to have a good third party claim then get it right. The best time to start collecting evidence relating to the accident is immediately after it occurs. As time passes, evidence and witnesses can disappear or become hard to locate. Construction projects involve a lot of workers who may not be on the site permanently. Finding anyone who saw the accident happen is critical.

While you recover, let your lawyer do all the work to prepare your case. Do not talk with insurance companies that contact you. Their main interest at the beginning of a claim is to get you to say things that can hurt your case.

Identifying witnesses and the companies who may be responsible is just part of the work that needs to be done.

  • Every aspect of the trenching operation should be analyzed.
  • Applicable regulations should be identified, both in the RCWs and the WACs.
  • All the facts must be evaluated to find violations of those regulations.
  • Detailed information about your injuries will be obtained and reviewed.
  • The full amount of a fair settlement must be calculated.

Your lawyer will do all that work and more, while you focus on getting better. Sound like a smart plan? Let's talk about your chances of success.

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