For much of human history, a person injured on the job received virtually nothing in the way of compensation or rest time. Fortunately, these are not like the days of the early 20th century!
Whether you own your own business or work in a dangerous job for an employer, you need to read a guide like this to keep yourself protected.
Understanding the laws
Determining guilt is the first step to pursuing a viable claim. The way worker safety laws are structured in the United States is that industrial accidents are split up into two types: frolics and detours. The worker’s word is often taken above that of the company’s, but one distinction they will make when determining if the company can be held liable or not is the type of accident that occurred. The law splits them up into two types: frolics and detours.
A frolic involves an employee who acts entirely of their own will in disregard for the established procedures and rules governing the use of company equipment. A detour involves an employee who may have deviated from the original instruction, but only in a way that directly related to the original instructions. Determining whether the industrial accident in question was the fault of the employer or employee often rests on this distinction, so it behooves the person affected to produce thorough documentation of their injury and use of company equipment, as well as procure eyewitness accounts if possible.
Furthermore, make sure to stay abreast of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) laws in regards to the field you work in. Established in 1970 to protect workers from abuse and mistreatment by companies, OSHA laws codify every major regulation and guideline that companies are to follow to protect their workers from harm. When determining if a company is liable for any sort of industrial accident that occurs, OSHA laws will be cited in defense or refutation of the claim in question.
Workers’ compensation exists purely to aid injured workers in getting the medical care and attention they need to recover. Many industrial accidents end at this point – workers compensation is designed to help an employee who is injured make a full recovery without resulting in a lawsuit. Filing a claim as soon as possible will minimize the chance that the employer will dispute the claim. Bear in mind that if you successfully file a worker’s comp form, you are saying that you are being satisfactorily compensated for your lost time and earnings. This often means that you waive your right to sue or petition the employer for any further damages if you sign, so if you experience any doubt that you are not being compensated as needed (generally if a company disputes the claim), you may need to consider hiring an attorney.
Not all industrial accidents are necessarily accidents in the purest sense. That is to say, the accident could have resulted due to gross negligence or contributory negligence on the employer’s part. Understanding how causation and forms of negligence factored into the industrial accident will be important in understanding whether or not you have a valid claim to pursue a lawsuit.
Workers’ comp is structured as no-fault. This means that people who suffer any sort of industrial accident receive compensation for medical bills, lost time and recovery without having to prove that somebody else was at fault for their injury. But because the worker is (usually) covered without question, people who suffer industrial accidents on the job are often barred from suing their employers in turn. However, depending on your state’s laws, you may still have the option of doing so should the industrial accident result from gross and/or willful negligence on the employer’s part.
If you have a workplace accident as a self-employed person, then things are going to be very different for you. After all, you’re the boss, and it was your responsibility to ensure you were safe! Of course, the extent to which this applies to your situation depends on where you were doing the work you were doing.
If you’re doing work on someone else’s property as a contractor, for example, and you’re injured because of your own negligence, then there’s not much you can do. But if the negligence was on the part of the owner of the property, then you could have a case to make against them. If you were doing contract work on someone’s electrical system and, say, their roof fell in on you, then – assuming the roof collapse had nothing to do with your own work – you’d have a case for a lawsuit!
But if you are the cause of an accident, that’s a different story. Even if you don’t have employees, you still need to ensure you have some kind of insurance to protect your business in case you make a mistake that results in legal action being taken against you. Something like consulting engineers professional indemnity insurance can be essential. This ensures you’re covered if you have to make a payout relating to the damage done to someone’s property.
Hiring an attorney
Ideally, many instances of accidents on the job will be resolved in a satisfactory manner – the worker is given the medical attention and care they need to heal, and the company doesn’t spend more any more time or money than is necessary to let the injured worker recover. But in some instances, whether the company purposely injured an employee (i.e they assaulted them during a heated argument) or the injury happened to the person because of the negligence of a third party company, you may have grounds to file a personal injury lawsuit.
Most attorneys, including ones who specialize in workers’ comp or personal injuries, will offer free consultations. These can be used to determine if you have a valid case or not, but having an attorney can also help you navigate the often byzantine workers comp system, instructing you when and where to file claims and how to maximize your chances of being compensated.
If multiple people are injured on the job and all of the industrial accidents in question have a similar or identical root cause, then it may be necessary to pursue a class-action lawsuit against the employer. This basically means that all of the individual lawsuits the injured parties may file are instead consolidated into one cohesive case against the employer.
Understand your rights and the laws that govern workplace safety, and you will be well equipped to ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve.