Construction Worker Fell Through Skylight?

This video features Michelle M. West, a Personal Injury attorney based in California.

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Video Transcript:

Michelle West: 

No one wants people to be hurt, and so we all need to take steps to make sure that we do what we can to make it safer.

Molly Hendrickson: 

Are skylights a hazard to workers in Southern California? We're gonna talk to attorney Michelle West about that on today's Ask The Lawyer. Michelle, thanks for joining us today.

Michelle West: 

Happy to be here.

Molly Hendrickson: 

So you and your law firm handle serious injuries and death for construction workers, can you tell us a little bit about the problem that skylights pose in Southern California?

Michelle West: 

Sure, so in Southern California, we have beautiful weather, we have a lot of deserts, there's a lot of sun, and so the skylights, we always wanna bring the natural light into our buildings. We wanna enjoy the outdoors. So there's always skylights on buildings, we can see them all the time, we sort of take them for granted, but when we have workers on the roof who are fixing our HVAC systems or doing work on the roof, it can be a hazard for them, also any kind of worker who has to go on to the roof, even if it's to repair a skylight or the roofing material, they can be something that can... A worker can fall on, sometimes they're not aware that they can be... They're not supposed to be stepped on, they're considered a walking surface by OSHA, but a lot of workers don't understand that they will not hold the weight of a person often, and they won't be able to tell if the skylight is guarded. So they can pose a serious danger to the workers if they fall through the skylight.

Molly Hendrickson: 

So if a worker does fall through a skylight and is seriously hurt or even sadly dies, what can the surviving family or the injured worker do for compensation, are they entitled to workers' comp?

Michelle West: 

Sure, so generally, if the worker is there working for a company, for example, we've had cases where an HVAC worker is up there with his company working on the heating and air conditioning unit, and there's been times where we represented a worker who fell backward and fell through a skylight, now they were employed by the heating and air conditioning company, so there was workers' compensation available for the family, that's a limited death benefit, typically for the family, including in this case, it was the wife and surviving children, so... Often, families will come to us to see, are there other potential wrongdoers. In this situation, for example, why was the worker up there, was the skylight defective and old, should it have been replaced? Was there a proper guarding over the skylight or underneath it, now that's not required typically, but a lot of buildings are doing it now, or some buildings are doing it because they wanna protect people, and if there were no guards over the skylight or underneath the skylight, was there proper warning to the people about the fact that there were skylights and those skylights may have been old and brittle, and just warning them that these skylights, even though they're on the roof surface should not be walked on and should be avoided.

Molly Hendrickson: 

So does that mean there are further claims available that a family could pursue?

Michelle West: 

Yes, absolutely. In many cases, the owner of the building. For example, the one who has the ability to select the type of skylight that's available and the strength of that skylight that's available, a skylight can be selected based on its strength and the weight that it will be able to withstand if someone does walk on it or potentially fall on it. So the selection of the skylight, that's usually gonna come to the building owner, the access to the roof, that's gonna come through the building owner, does the owner make sure only proper people have access to the roof? Warning about the fact that there are skylights, that's gonna be a building owner, and then also the servicers and maintenance people for the roof, if there's a contract between the owner and the servicers or maintenance people... You're gonna need to look at that contract. Were the service personnel supposed to be looking for any cracks or a deterioration in the skylight, was it time to get a new skylight? Was there a breach in the skylight or a crack? Sometimes the maintenance people could tell the owner of the building that, Hey, there should have been a a warning on it, there wasn't a warning on it, I think could also let them know if there was some access to the roof, now that should be blocked off, so that some people who may not be aware of the hazards of the skylight can stay away from the skylights, and also installers, was the skylight installed properly.

Michelle West: 

That's another avenue to look at as well as, of course, the skylight manufacturer themselves. Skylight manufacturers are aware of the dangers of skylights, but the courts in California have... There's a decision, the Romito decision, that held that even though skylight manufacturers are aware that people might walk on them or fall on them, they did not have to make them stronger to prevent that, even though it was technologically feasible to do so because they didn't have to make them as strong as possible. So that decision is out there. Now, there's still a requirement that they warn and there's still possible liability on the part of skylight manufacturers, it's gonna require a lot of work, proper experts and a lot of investigation to see if there's a possible claim versus the skylight manufacturer.

Molly Hendrickson: 

Yeah, with so many players in this, I can imagine it can be tough to determine who really is at fault, so do lawsuits like this... Do they help or hurt the construction industry, and what impact do you hope this type of litigation has?

Michelle West: 

So my opinion is that it strongly helps the construction industry, I've seen that it improves safety meetings, I've seen that it will save lives, no one wants these people to be hurt, not the people doing the work, not the owners of the building, not the repair personnel. Skylight manufacturers, no one wants people to be hurt, and so we all need to take steps to make sure that we do what we can to make it safer, so when these lawsuits happen, I've seen it for myself. It does make everyone safer, they now are aware that skylights won't hold the weight of a person, they put in to place safety protocol and actions for the workers to take, whether it's tying off any time they're on the roof or within a certain feet of a skylight, whatever the action is and just general education, it's very helpful and informative, it helps building owners block off access to the skylights, it helps them potentially select a better skylight for safety, so skylights cases, in my opinion, greatly help for safety and save lives, and also, quite frankly, save money and prevent future lawsuits.

Molly Hendrickson: 

Hopefully they effect positive changes. Michelle, thanks for joining us today.

Michelle West: 

Thank you.

Molly Hendrickson: 

And that's gonna do it for this episode of Ask The Lawyer. My guest has been Michelle West. If you wanna ask her about your situation, you can call the number on the screen. Thanks for watching, I'm Molly Hendrickson for Ask The Lawyers.

Disclaimer: This video is for informational purposes only. In some states, this video may be deemed Attorney Advertising. The choice of lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.


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