Workplace Accident Litigation
Injured on the job? Here's a look at common workplace injuries, your legal rights, and what to do after an accident.
Americans work hard to earn their paychecks. You commit yourself to your employer and your job, with approximately one-third of your life spent at your workplace. It is reasonable for you to expect that if you are hurt or even killed on the job, you or your family will be fairly compensated.
If you are in an accident at work, you might file a workers' compensation claim or, depending on the circumstances, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit. But in either case, there are certain steps you’ll need to take to protect your rights. Below, we will take a deep dive into everything you need to know about workplace accidents and explain step by step what to do if you are involved in a workplace accident.
Where Do Workplace Accidents Occur?
Workplace accidents can occur literally anywhere that people work. Some jobs are well-known for their accident risks, such as roofing, logging, and heavy equipment operation. But workplace accidents also occur in warehouses, schools, and even offices. And because these work locations “seem” safer, both employers and employees may be more complacent. No matter where you work, make sure you are aware of your employer’s safety protocols and always follow them.
Common Causes of Workplace Accidents
The causes of workplace accidents typically fall into five basic categories, each of which includes numerous specific causes.
Task-based causes include anything having to do with executing the actual work task, such as:
- Falling from a high location
- Dropping a heavy item
- Getting caught in a machine
- Repetitive use injuries
- Muscle sprains or strains
Material-based causes have to do with problems with the equipment or materials used in the course of work, such as:
- Safety equipment failure
- Chemical spills
- Machinery malfunctions
- Car accidents
- Forklift or other heavy equipment accidents
- Scaffolding incidents
Issues with the physical work environment can also cause workplace accidents. These include:
- Slip and falls
- Falling rocks, metals, or other materials
- Tripping over power cords or other hazards
- Electrical failures
- Exposure to heat or cold
- Exposure to airborne toxins
This is a broad category that includes any issues with the physical or mental condition of the injured employee or someone else in the workplace. Examples include:
- Improper lifting techniques
- Attempting tasks that are beyond individual physical capabilities
- Failure to properly hydrate or consume enough calories
- Drinking or drug use
- Not following designated safety protocols
- Workplace violence
Management-related causes for workplace accidents include anything for which management is directly responsible, such as:
- Improper or inadequate safety training
- Failure to provide adequate safety gear
- Lack of oversight of the work location
- Not taking steps to mitigate hazards, such as cleaning up spills, tagging malfunctioning equipment, or placing hazard signs around known problem areas
- Failure to enforce zero-tolerance workplace harassment, bullying, or violence policies
- Not intervening in escalating employee disputes
Types of Injuries Are Often Sustained at Work
Workplace injuries run the gamut from minor to life-threatening. Depending on your specific type of worksite, common injury risks may include:
- Acute muscle strains or tears
- Amputation of a finger, toe, or limb
- Back and neck injuries
- Brain injuries
- Broken or crushed bones
- Electric shock
- Lifting injuries to the back, knees, shoulders, and other joints
- Loss of vision or hearing
- Spinal cord injuries
- Repetitive motion injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome
Employers Responsible for a Safe Work Environments
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets out guidelines that all employers in the United States must follow to protect their workers. These include:
- Provide a workplace free from certain hazards that conforms to all OSHA standards
- Regularly examine the worksite to ensure that it remains in compliance
- Provide employees with safe, properly maintained tools and equipment
- Use proper signage or labeling on all potential hazards
- Establish and communicate operating procedures based on health and safety
- Provide comprehensive safety training in a language the worker understands, using plain language
- Implement a written hazard communication protocol and regular hazard training if hazardous chemicals are used in the workplace
- Provide medical examinations and training as required
Note that your state and local jurisdiction may also have specific workplace safety regulations. Be sure you are aware of the laws that govern your workplace.
What if I Have an Accident at Work?
The things you do in the hours and days after your accident will establish the necessary paper trail to receive compensation. Be sure to follow these steps after any workplace accident.
1. Report It
If you have an accident at work, you must report it to your employer within 24 hours. Be sure to report even minor incidents, such as a twisted ankle, as some injuries take a few days to show significant symptoms. Your employer should have accident report forms available, but if not, you can submit a written document that includes the following information:
- Your name and job title, along with your supervisor’s name
- Date and time of the incident
- As many details as you can remember about the situation: Where you were, what you were doing, and how the injury occurred. Be sure to note relevant environmental information such as a slippery floor, as well as any material issues such as failed safety equipment. If anyone else was involved, include their name and job title, and a brief description of their involvement.
- The affected body part and as much as you know about the injury. For example, you might say “hair entangled in mixer” or “wrist pain following prolonged typing.”
2. See a Doctor
Next, you will need to see a doctor. In some cases, you can visit your own physician. In other cases, you will need to see an approved workers' compensation doctor. Ask your employer if there is a list of approved physicians and, if so, be sure to see one of them. If you are seriously injured, call 911 or head directly to the nearest emergency room for treatment.
Be sure to see a doctor even if you don’t believe the injury requires medical care. It is an important step in the process of getting your workplace accident covered. If you don’t need emergency treatment, schedule an appointment as soon as possible. Either way, be sure to tell your provider that the injury was work-related and give them the information they need to bill your company’s insurer.
3. File a Workers' Compensation Claim
Workers' compensation is how most workplace accident claims are resolved. This insurance is mandatory for employers in most states, and it is specifically designed to cover injuries or illnesses sustained in the workplace. However, not every injury is covered by workers comp. For example, subcontractors and independent contractors are generally not covered. Accidents that take place on a work break or that are caused by third parties, such as a car accident that occurs while you are off-site for work, may not be covered.
Assuming that your incident qualifies for workers comp, you will need to file a designated form within a short timeline (typically 30 days, but this can vary by state). Attach your doctor’s report and all other documentation to your filing.
4. Hire an Attorney
Whether or not your case qualifies for workers' compensation, it is always a smart idea to hire an attorney unless your injury was very minor. The reason for this is simple: insurance companies, as well as large employers, have powerful and highly experienced attorneys working for them. Their goal is to settle with you for as little compensation as possible. You need an equally skilled and experienced lawyer who will fight for every dollar you deserve.
And determining exactly what your case is worth can be difficult. Some injuries will cause lifelong disability—perhaps bad enough for you to need disability benefits, or maybe “only” bad enough to keep you from taking certain jobs. How do you put a monetary value on that? Or maybe you will require regular medical care for the rest of your life—how much will that cost over the next 40 or 50 years? A skilled personal injury attorney can walk you through these various scenarios step to step to come up with a fair number for your compensation.
What happens if your workers' comp doctor clears you to return to work, but you are still having significant pain? Or what if your employer fails to process your workers' compensation claim in a timely manner? There are a lot of “what ifs” involved in any injury case, so it only makes sense to work with a lawyer who knows how to deal with all the scenarios.
What Kinds of Compensation Could I Receive?
Exactly what kinds of compensation you receive will depend on the specifics of your case and whether you file a lawsuit in addition to or instead of a workers' compensation claim. Personal injury damages typically fall into a few different categories:
- Medical expenses. If you are injured at work, you can reasonably expect to have your medical expenses covered. These could include doctor visits, X-rays or other imaging tests, surgeries, casting or bracing, and prescription medications, among others.
- Rehabilitation expenses. If your injury is more severe or long-lasting, you may also need ongoing rehabilitation, such as physical therapy or vocational therapy. These costs should be covered by your claim.
- Lost wages. If you are unable to work due to your injury, you can receive compensation for your lost wages.
- Disability. If you are partially or fully disabled by your injury, you may be entirely unable to work or unable to return to your former work status. Disability benefits can help compensate you for this.
- Death benefits. If you lose your life due to a workplace injury, your beneficiaries may receive financial compensation.
The above benefits are typically covered by workers' compensation. If a lawsuit is appropriate for your situation, there are other types of compensation that may apply. These include:
- Loss of future income. In some cases, a workplace injury could prevent you from pursuing your intended future career. You may be eligible for compensation based on the income you could have made had your injury not occurred.
- Physical deformity. If your injury causes a significant physical deformity, such as an amputation, you may be entitled to additional compensation.
- Pain and suffering. Workers comp does not provide compensation for pain and suffering, but a lawsuit might.
- Emotional distress. In a lawsuit, you may be able to recover damages for the emotional distress inflicted by your injury.
- Punitive damages. This type of compensation is typically awarded only in lawsuits that involve the most egregious behavior. Punitive damages are designed to punish the party that caused the injury rather than simply to make you whole.
Workplace accident cases are rarely simple, even if the injury is relatively minor. If the injury is especially damaging, long-lasting, or life-limiting, a workplace accident case can quickly become highly complex. Your employer and their insurance company will be represented by highly experienced lawyers who are determined to settle the case for as little as possible. So you should always hire your own skilled attorney to ensure that your rights are protected and you receive all the compensation for which you deserve.
An experienced attorney from Cooney & Conway will work with you to pursue all legal options to gain compensation for you and/or your family. We understand the laws that govern workplace accidents and workers' compensation, and we know when to pursue a workers' comp claim and when to file a lawsuit. Whichever avenue you pursue, we will be by your side every step of the way.
Call Cooney & Conway toll-free at 800-322-5573 to speak with an attorney for complete information about your legal options. Or fill out our free case evaluation today and we will get back to you as soon as possible. Be sure to have all documentation regarding your case ready for our review, including copies of any forms you have filed and a copy of your doctor’s report. We look forward to helping you resolve your workplace accident claim!