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Construction accident litigation, like the construction process itself, is highly specialized and complex, involving tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of documents. Most commercial construction projects involve a standard form of contract between the owner and general contractor prepared by the American Institute of Architects. These contractual provisions form the theme of a plaintiff’s case and provide ammunition for proving liability against the defendants. The construction contract should be used to explain to the jury what the defendant promised to do and failed to deliver. Virtually every contract contains safety requirements, including a requirement to comply with OSHA. The safety language ordinarily requires contractors to comply with all regulations and ordinances, requires the erection and maintenance of reasonable safeguards for safety and protection, and requires the designation of responsible members of the organization for the prevention of accidents. The specifications set forth the work that needs to be done and how it is to be performed. The specifications also normally incorporate safety language. They are generally broken down by trade and there are different sections for each portion of the work. There will be a section dealing with concrete that requires concrete work to be performed in a certain fashion and pursuant to certain codes and standards. All work needs to be inspected for compliance with the specifications. Under many specifications, the general contractor has a responsibility to inspect the subcontractor’s work to ensure that it complies with OSHA. Witnesses should be questioned as to whether they received a copy of the specifications and, if so, whether they complied with them. The progress meeting minutes comprise a general diary of the ebb and flow of the work on the project. They are typically held once a week. The superintendents of each of the contractors typically attend. These minutes track the work that has been performed, problems or difficulties that arise and safety issues. Sometimes there are safety meeting minutes that are kept separate from progress meeting minutes. The project meeting minutes will also indicate a list of attendees. This is a good place to start preparing for whom you want to depose on the site. On most commercial projects, an outside photographer, the general contractor’s superintendent or others take progress photographs on a regular basis to track the progress of the job. These are typically taken to address delay and construction contract claims between contractors. However, these may capture unsafe conditions days, weeks or months before an accident occurred. The superintendent for each contractor, specifically the general contractor, normally keeps a superintendent log. This will track problems that arise in the day-to-day flow of work at the job site. Typically, these will address how many people were onsite at a particular time, what work was performed and any potential problem that arises. Each of the contractors and subcontractors typically fill out a daily job report. This indicates where they were doing work, what work was performed, how many men or women were working on the site, and what equipment was used. You may be able to determine, for example, when a wall was built by checking the daily job reports of the masons. Blueprints and drawings comprise the design documents. There are structural drawings that reveal the structure of the building and its essential support. Shop drawings will break the structural drawings down into smaller and smaller increments to show how steel gets connected to other steel, installation of rebar, etc. Almost all drawings will have a block that indicates when the drawing was first made, by whom, and any revisions by date. Blueprints also usually contain warnings or admonitions regarding certain items. Most projects have a job site safety manual, typically prepared by the general contractor, which will discuss general safety issues throughout the job site. Most subcontractors have their own safety manual that addresses their specific type of work. Most general contractors require the subcontractors to submit their safety manuals pursuant to contract. Some manuals are specifically tailored to the industry and hazards that will be encountered on the job site. There are many sources for the creation of the safety manual. Some companies are sufficiently sophisticated to have a fulltime safety director who will research and author the safety program. Other companies may buy or obtain canned general safety manuals that are commercially available. In other instances, companies have literally copied the safety manuals of other companies. Typically, once a week on major commercial projects there is an overall job site safety meeting, attended by the supervisors of all of the subcontractors. Safety policy and safety issues will be discussed and documented. Frequently, accidents and their causes are also discussed. Tool box talks are normally given once a week to the employees of each trade. Unfortunately, however, many times the safety topic is addressed randomly, based upon an insurance company printout, and has nothing to do with the work that is actually being performed at the site. Typically, the plaintiff will be confronted with tool box talks that he attended and signed off on. Robert J. Mongeluzzi is a partner in the firm of Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky of Philadelphia, Pa. He is chairman and founder of the ATLA’s electrical accident group and its crane and aerial lift injury litigation group.

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