Hurt on the Job – When You Have a Lawsuit Against Your Employer
It happens to the best of us. You’re carrying a heavy load from the office store room to the warehouse, and suddenly you feel a searing pain through your back. Or you’re just about to greet a colleague when you slip in a pool of spilled coffee carelessly left on the floor of your office building’s main lobby. Instead of shaking her hand, you’re lying face down on marble with a broken nose, shattered ankle and fractured wrist.
One minute you’re on top of the world looking forward to a well-deserved three-week vacation from work followed by a promotion, the next you’re laid up in bed indefinitely nursing your wounds. And all because of an accident on the job that shouldn’t have happened and could have been easily prevented.
So what can you do?
Well, according to lawyers who specialize in personal injury lawsuits, the best thing to do is to try and prove that the injury is not your fault. If you can prove negligence, carelessness or “unreasonably safe actions” on the part of your employer, there’s chance you have a convincing lawsuit in front of you.
That means not only will you receive compensation to make up for your time off work and pay all your hospital bills, but perhaps also a little bit extra for the “mental anguish” you may have suffered, to compensate for the humiliation of lying prone in front of all your fellow office workers….
First Steps to Take
If you are hurt on the job, follow these steps to protect yourself the best you can. Often taking these steps will be all you need, and litigation can be prevented – especially if you are covered by Worker’s Compensation (see below)…
Call for medical help. There’s no use intending to sue your company if you die of blood loss on the factory floor while waiting for your supervisor to get back from lunch. If you are suffering a medical emergency, get help immediately – but make sure you tell the person treating you that you have a work-related injury.
Tell your employer. Your boss or immediate supervisor should be informed as soon as possible of your injury. If the injury is something of an immediate nature, such as a trip or fall, let them know as soon as it happens. If your injury is of a more gradual nature, such as hearing loss or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, let them know as soon as you are aware that it is work-related.
Fill out an official claim form as soon as possible. Most workplaces have rules in place which mandate that injured employees be given claim form to request Worker’s Compensation benefits within one day. It may be worth finding out what rules your job has in place. Make sure you describe your injury in detail, as well as how it happened.
Document everything. It is vital to keep well-documented records of the injury or accident, what witnesses were there, what medical care you received etc. You should also keep copies of all correspondence, including letters, emails etc, from doctors, bosses etc. Keep track also of when you missed work and make sure you have a list of all dates – and that they are accurate.
Get a lawyer. If you feel your needs are not being met by your employer and that you are not getting the right medical care or compensation you need, you might need extra help. Remember, however, that most personal injury lawyers settle out of court, to avoid the hassle and legal fees that a court appearance would entail. They will work together with the legal counsel of the opposing party to decide how much compensation you should realistically be entitled to – if any (see below).
What is Worker’s Compensation?
Also known as Worker’s Comp, these are laws to protect workers that might vary a bit from state to state, but are basically the same. When you are working for your employer or doing something to benefit your employer, you are covered by Worker’s Comp.
That means if you have an accident at work, an injury caused by an activity at work (such as Carpal Tunnel syndrome or exposure to a specific chemical), you are covered. You also are covered when a pre-existing condition is made work because of work. Not bad, eh?
Not everyone is protected by worker’s comp, however, such as people working for independent contractors, federal workers, railroad workers and those working at sea or at a harbor. Interestingly, you are covered if you do not have a Green Card, and you will not have to show it to apply for compensation.
If your employer says your injury will not be covered by Worker’s Comp, check with a lawyer. And remember, states have different laws concerning employers who fire employees for filing for Worker’s Comp.
When Only a Lawyer Will Do
If you have been injured because of your employer’s negligence and feel you have not received adequate compensation, you may want to hire a personal injury lawyer. Usually there is a specific time frame in which you can file a lawsuit, which will vary from state to state, so check first to make sure your time has not already run out.
While suing your employer may sound glamorous, usually settling out of court is the best way. You may read in the newspaper that someone sued their company for $2 million and won after they tripped on a piece of gum in the elevator, but this usually isn’t the case. And suing for “mental anguish” is notoriously hard to prove.
The best rule of thumb is to find an attorney familiar with both the laws of your state and your injuries, then take it from there. Keep in mind, however, that work accidents happen for all sorts of reasons. Maybe someone should have cleaned up that spill on the marble floor immediately, instead of letting it fester until someone slipped in it. With other types of accidents, however, it can be less obvious who is at fault.
The following are all taken from real accident scenarios…
Nursing home orderly Jake Q. was lifting a heavy patient out of a chair and into bed when he felt a horrible pain in his back. Jake was never given proper training about the care and lifting of patients. Now he is facing six months off work to give his back a rest. Who’s at fault? Verdict: The nursing home, for not providing adequate training to employees.
Katrina M. was working as a store assistant and was taking a box of CDs down from a store display. At the same time another assistant pushed a basket in front of her, and as she turned around she tripped over it and suffered a knee injury that required surgery. Who’s at fault? Verdict: The employer, for not giving employees training to protect their colleagues.
Tracy L. was unloading a warehouse shelf when a heavy load of badly stacked items fell on her hand, causing injury. Her hand was fractured and she was off work for three months. Who’s at fault? Verdict: The warehouse owner, for not making certain that rules are in place to ensure that items are stacked in a way that will not put employees at risk.
Accidents on the job happen all the time, and it can be notoriously difficult to prove who is at fault. If you have been hurt and feel you have a lawsuit against your employer, you may have a legitimate case. Try to find a personal injury lawyer with a spotless reputation, and one who has dealt with similar cases countless times before. But remember, sometimes settling out of court will be your best bet.