Construction Law

Criminal Penalties and Construction Law featured image

Criminal Penalties and Construction Law

Construction law comes with a lot of complexity, but much of it has to do with civil law. The vast majority of construction-related cases involve one party against another (i.e., a property owner versus a general contractor) making it a civil matter. However, there are cases where a case in the construction industry can involve criminal charges. It is rare, but the number of cases where this happens is steadily increasing. Any time there is an accident resulting in injury or death, there will likely be an OSHA investigation following to identify the cause of the accident. In this article, Portland construction attorneys discuss criminal penalties and how they affect construction law. 

The Need For Criminal Charges

When there is a dispute during the course of a construction project, a simple civil case is needed to address the problem in most cases. While this works for the majority of cases, there are a few that could involve crimal charges. This usually happens when there is a major accident. In these cases, the government is looking to see if any injuries or deaths resulted from criminal activity. 

For example, a bridge collapses with people on it. The investigation will immediately look to see how the company that built it managed the project. Most of the findings will likely point to nothing, but finding out that the director of the company forced staff to cut corners on the project can change the outcome. It means that the director could face criminal charges for creating a work environment that contributed to inferior bridge development. 

Types of Charges

There are several types of charges that can be expected when a construction case involves criminal charges. Some of these charges include:


Negligence is one of the more common charges, and the severity usually depends on if people are injured or not. Cases that involve negligence charges usually result from executive pushing workers to complete projects faster. Investigations usually find that the pressure from company leadership causes workers to work in unsafe conditions or cut corners leading to serious problems. 


Manslaughter can also be included in cases where someone died in a construction accident. These cases are similar to negligence cases. In fact, many cases where manslaughter is involved include negligence charges as well. The negligence led to a situation where a person was killed by construction-related issues, hence the manslaughter charges. It is usually targeted at the person in charge of a project or a person that puts pressure on the project leading to problems in the construction process. 


Fraud chargers are becoming increasingly more popular as more and more businesses are caught misrepresenting themselves. In many of these cases, a company lies about itself to attract business. This often happens when trying to secure government funding for projects. One popular way to do this is to set up a shell company that looks like a business that the government would want to give money to for projects. The team behind the shell company collects the profits without doing the work. Cases like this are becoming more common, and the government is beginning to crack down on it. 

Safety Violations

Safety violations are not new to the construction industry, but criminal charges are uncommon. They are becoming more common in repeat cases or cases where there is an obscene level of negligence. Some companies have been caught repeatedly violating safety regulations, and fines do not seem to be a reliable deterrent. 

Law enforcement is charging the people responsible within these companies with charges such as reckless endangerment and creating hostile/unsafe working conditions. The theory is that holding the management team directly accountable, it will stop other managers form creating conditions where workers could be injured. 

Business Practice Violations

There is a range of possible charges related to business practice violations that can be applied in construction industry cases. Business owners have a long list of business practice obligations that they need to meet. These include maintaining specific programs, meeting regulations, and refraining from specific business actions. 

Anytime the government finds that a business owner is taking especially egregious action that could impact workers in negative ways, it is likely that the government will step in and file charges to stop those practices. It is not uncommon after an accident where other criminal charges are filed for charges related to shady business practices to be filed as well. 

Types of Penalties

In cases where criminal charges are filed, there are two types of penalties: fines and imprisonment. Penalties are assigned based on the charges and the severity of the situation. Fines are more common and the amount increases relative to the damage that was caused. For example, fraud cases usually end in serious fines on top of having to repay the money that was stolen. However, the people responsible for the whole thing may also see jail time. It all depends on the crime and the appropriate punishment. 

The chances of going to jail are largely based on the damage and the type of damage that was done. The cases where jail time is likely are the cases with large amounts of fraud or financial profit are found. Essentially, law enforcement wants to cut these schemes off at the source so that they will fall apart and they can try to recoup the funds that were stolen.  

Dealing with civil cases and criminal charges can be difficult, which is why you may want to consult a lawyer to see how you can avoid breaking the law altogether. It is the most effective way to avoid problems and keep your company out of trouble. If you have questions about problems that could lead your construction company into legal issues, contact Portland construction lawyers from Cotney Attorneys & Consultants.

If you would like to speak with a Portland construction attorney, please contact us today.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.