The trench collapse in Brier Creek, Durham, NC, on Wednesday, January, 15, 2020, was a tragedy in every sense of the word. The accident happened on a construction site where workers were digging for a new gas station. While the direct cause of the accident is unknown, the heartbreaking effects are. Two men were injured – one seriously. Another man lost his life.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who were injured, and especially to the loved ones of the man who was killed. Now, we want to understand the accident, the aftermath, and the actions they may be able to take.
What Happened in Brier Creek?
The construction company in charge of the project is D R Mozeley out of Charlotte. Their subcontractor, J Squared Plumbing out of Georgia, was performing the work. The company reported that workers were scheduled to be performing work in a three foot well, not a deeper trench. However, a worker on site stated that the hole they were working in was deeper. Durham Fire Chief Iannuzzi said he did not know how deep the trench was originally, but it was six- to eight-feet deep after the collapse.
A supervisor for a construction team that was not working on the site, but was nearby, mentioned that the recent period of rainfall made conditions more difficult, adding the weight of water to the earth being excavated.
Once the truth is known, more legal proceedings may come. One thing that is not in doubt, however, is that the workers involved need help.
What’s Next: Taking Care of Injured Workers
In the aftermath of a work-related accident, there are investigations and often the shifting of blame. In the meantime, the injured workers and their families are likely entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. For the worker who lost his life, the process and benefits are slightly different.
For the injured workers
For workers killed on the job
A wrongful death claim must be entered. Learn more about wrongful death claims and survivor benefits. There are still time limits involved, so it is important to act as soon as possible.
It’s worth noting that workers may also be able to file third party liability claim
This would be in addition to a workers’ compensation claim. Third party liability claims are levied against someone besides the employer whose negligence or recklessness may have contributed to the worker’s injury.
What Is Trenching and Who Makes the Safety Rules?
Construction work is one of the more dangerous day-to-day jobs. Opportunities for injury are present throughout the working day, from tools, to vehicles, to environmental hazards.
Construction sites have strict safety regulations and protocols in place to keep workers safe, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces those rules. There are specific safety rules for excavation and trenching. OSHA defines excavation as “any man-made cut, cavity, trench, or depression in the earth’s surface formed by earth removal. A trench is defined as a narrow underground excavation that is deeper than it is wide, and is no wider than 15 feet (4.5 meters).”
Federal regulations applicable to trenching and excavation operations are located in Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations (29 CFR) States may have similar, stricter codes in place.
In the case of the Brier Creek trench collapse, an investigation will likely be conducted to see if proper safety protocols were followed, and if not, who was negligent in their omission.
Tragedies and Trends in Excavation Work
After a spike in trench-related construction deaths in the early 2000s, OSHA performed an investigation, which led to an emphasis campaign to highlight ways to trench safely. At the time, the study showed that proper protective systems were only used 24% of the time. In 68% of the accidents, environmental factors played a role, but in 86% of the accidents, the supervisor was not on-site at the time the accident occurred.
A report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that, between 2014 and 2016, trench-related deaths rose dramatically. In 2013, there were 13 deaths. In 2016, there were 36.
An additional complication for workers’ compensation claims in cases of trench collapse is that there are often multiple contractors or companies working the same site. This may complicate the workers’ compensation claim, but there also may be reason to file a third party liability claim. An experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney can analyze the facts and explain your options.
Contact an Experienced Workers’ Compensation Attorney
For victims of workplace injuries and their families, that weekly paycheck is a lifeline. Medical benefits can keep the bills from piling up as well. Some insurance companies may try to deny benefits when possible, so it’s important to have someone working for your best interest.