Lawyer teaches safety on construction sites

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Indiana Lawyer Focus

On an occasional Saturday, you may find attorney John Daly teaching a workplace safety course in front of construction workers.

His opening line: “I can tell you how you’re probably going to die.”

The rest depends on who’s sitting in front of him listening: falling from a scaffolding or high place, electrocution, exposure to chemical hazards, or being fatally injured by a power tool or heavy machine.

john daly Daly

His lectures sometimes deviate, as they did most recently in late April when he spoke to a roomful of attorneys about construction law and workplace safety in new construction sites. In seminars for builders and general contractors, he teaches about safety issues weaved into project contracts that if not followed could shut their businesses down.

Daly is an Occupational Safety and Health Administration trainer authorized to teach 10-hour and 30-hour safety courses, which complements his construction law and workplace safety practice with Indianapolis law firm Cohen & Malad. His work centers on construction-site accidents involving federal and state agencies, and he’s secured high-dollar verdicts and settlements in recent years in cases representing injured ironworkers, electricians, laborers, masons, operators, and other skilled workers.

“There’s a lot of bad that goes on in construction areas,” Daly said. “Those workers on the site end up doing the most dangerous work with lousy instructions and less supervision, and I’ve seen some real bad things in those areas.”

Construction attorney Greg Dale at Baker & Daniels in Indianapolis said many hazards exist in this area and the legal issues can literally be life and death, especially in vertical construction on buildings or roadway construction sites where speeding traffic can be an issue. But he credits Indiana and especially the Indianapolis area for having a high standard for safety.

Organizations like the non-profit Metro Indianapolis Coalition for Construction Safety, Inc. are dedicated to achieving zero injury on construction and facility maintenance job sites, he said.

“Construction is a hazardous work by its nature, and I’ve found it comforting to see response of every major player who supports safety,” he said, referring to data showing Indiana has had some of its best years recently in non-fatal or serious accidents. “I don’t think these efforts are unique to Indiana, but you don’t see it everywhere across the country where companies are banding together on construction safety.”

Lawyers and law firms representing companies that do construction or renovation projects are more forcefully making sure their clients are keeping up with safety protocol and meeting federal and state standards.

In April, law firm Frost Brown Todd reported that OSHA is stepping up enforcement efforts and has cited almost twice as many employers for violations in the first quarter of 2010 than it had for all of the previous year. The national and state agencies are more stringently enforcing existing standards and expanding enforcement under the general duty clause, maximizing penalties for employers charged with safety violations, the firm reports.

For those in Indianapolis, like Daly, that means not only making sure builders and contractors and their lawyers know about the safety requirements, but that workers also know what’s expected and should be happening on sites.

“OSHA teaches companies to avoid fines … I teach to avoid the accidents,” he said. “Little things like making sure electrical cords are up to date. That’s the nickel-and-dime stuff that could end up costing millions if an accident’s caused.”

In his safety seminars, Daly said both the bosses and workers are sometimes reluctant at the start, but they usually become more receptive.

“I let them know that at times I’m the person putting their whole business at risk,” he said. “The idea is so they have an idea of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, and how to prevent me from ever getting involved.”

Among the largest issues that construction safety lawyers deal with involve knowing the work sites and procedures taking place there, how equipment is utilized, and that work procedures are put in place, attorneys say. Contract law also is a large part of this work, as Daly often sees general contractor foremen and supervisors not reading the contracts that include safety language for those actually doing the job.

For example, contracts between owners and general contractors often include OSHA regulations and some put in their own language specifics, Daly said. He said Wal-Mart has a practice of including a higher building standard for a mandatory six-foot rule for protection when a worker’s off the ground, he said. That’s not OSHA-required, but something Wal-Mart does and requires of contractors.

“Those rules don’t put any duties on the general contractor per se, but contracts between the owners and general contractors make them liable,” he said. “The first response can be puzzlement, as they don’t realize what their obligations are through these contracts on behalf of those actually doing the jobs. … But turning a blind eye and saying ‘I wasn’t there’ isn’t a sufficient excuse.”

Throughout his career, Daly has handled dozens of construction-site accident cases ranging from scaffolding falls to crane- or equipment-malfunction injuries. Some of his more noteworthy ones include a $10.2 million jury verdict in October to the widow of a paving-company worker killed during construction work on I-465; a $2.9 million settlement last year on a steel worker’s construction-site accident, and a $925,000 verdict in August 2005 in a Hamilton County site accident where a masonry wall fell on an iron worker and caused brain injury.

“You can have some interesting legal issues come up, like a general contractor’s assumption of duty and employer liability being limited to workers’ comp,” he said. “A lot of this goes to pre-planning and job site or performance analysis. It’s not a matter of just putting hard hats on; it’s looking at a construction project and knowing the dangers and how the work can be done safely. When that’s done, accidents can be avoided.”•


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  1. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.