Employees injured while at work may have limited awareness of what options are available to cover their medical expenses, especially in a first-time occurrence. Some may turn to their personal health insurance plans or pursue medical treatment on their own. If they report the injury to their employer, or if the employer is aware an on-the-job accident occurred, injured employees will most likely be directed to file a workers’ compensation claim. This may not, however, reflect an option that provides adequate compensation for other financial issues or the non-economic harm caused by an injury.
If you choose to file a workers’ comp claim to cover your treatment and recovery costs, all 50 states’ laws will enable you to submit your filing without fear of harassment from your employer. All businesses in New York must provide workers comp coverage for their employees, including part-time workers and employed family members. According to the NY State Workers’ Compensation Board, employees filed more than 148,000 claims in 2021. If you’re injured at work, you may also find your employer encouraging you to file a workers’ comp claim.
What You May “Give Up” if You File for Workers’ Comp
No proof of negligence by any party involved is required to qualify for workers’ comp benefits. Injured employees or their employers could have been responsible for the harm caused. When you file for workers’ comp, however, you may give up your right to file a personal injury suit against your employer. Losing the right to sue eliminates the option to recover what could reflect a much higher damages amount.
Because workers’ comp benefits do not take into account an injured person’s physical or mental pain and suffering, a civil suit may be the only way to recover what could reflect significant non-economic damages. This will, however, require proving that an employer or a third party caused your injury through their negligence. Pursuing this type of legal action typically requires careful consideration and attorney representation.
Workplace Accidents That Could Lead to Personal Injury Claims
During 2020, New York State employers in private industries reported 129,000 nonfatal work-related injuries. Included in that number were occupational illnesses and more than 90,000 reported occurrences that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted were “of a more severe nature.”
Work-related events that could cause severe harm and justify a personal injury suit include:
- Slips, trips and falls
- Exposure to harmful environments or substances
- Coming in contact with moving machine parts or debris
- Electrical shocks
- Vehicle or transport accidents
Although the financial cost to treat some of the above injury types could qualify for coverage through a workers’ comp claim, a job-related injury could cause lifelong scarring, a long-term disability, or an inability to work in your profession. In some cases, a workplace accident results when an employer fails to provide safety equipment, personal protection gear or workplace safety training. Under these circumstances, the case could be made that a worker’s injuries were the result of the employer’s negligence.
Construction Workers Often Lack Onsite Safety Protections
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration tracks employer workplace safety violations. For the fiscal year ending in September 2021, OSHA released a list of the top ten construction site safety violations the administration cited.
Five of the top ten OSHA construction site violations were related to falls:
- Inadequate or missing fall protection
- Improper use or lack of scaffolds
- Improper ladder use
- Inadequate fall protection training
- Failure to meet fall protection requirements
A fall from a height can cause severe or disabling injuries, but a slip-and-fall to the same floor level may also prove catastrophic. Even a short-distance fall could result in a forceful impact to the head, which could produce a latent injury that may not show immediate symptoms. A severe traumatic brain injury, for example, may not begin to display symptoms until several weeks after an accident occurs.
In addition to injuries affecting the head, spine or nervous system, exposure to harmful environments or toxic substances may cause latent injuries or illnesses that could take several years to show. Unlike acute environmental injuries that result in immediate signs of harm, such as burns or poisoning, exposure to certain substances over time can lead to latent illnesses and injuries such as cancer or lung damage. If an employer failed to provide the proper safety gear or training required to handle or work near toxic substances, a harmed employee could have cause for a personal injury suit.
The Important Difference Between Workers’ Comp and a Personal Injury Claim
Although workers’ comp could cover the cost of your medical treatments and a portion of the wages lost during recovery, non-economic damages may reflect an important issue. The injury that you suffered as a result of another party’s negligence could have impacted your quality of life. Workers’ comp benefits may not make up for a long-term or permanent life change.
A civil suit filed to obtain compensation for non-economic damages caused by another party’s negligence could reflect more than pain and emotional distress. A jury may also award damages such as:
- Loss of enjoyment, which reflects losing the ability to enjoy some or all of the injured party’s previous recreations, hobbies or day-to-day routines
- Loss of consortium, which refers to a change or loss related to a spousal relationship
- Punitive damages, which are rarely awarded, may apply in certain cases of gross negligence; a jury may decide to send a strong message to the responsible party as a deterrent to prevent future negligence.
What Factors Could Have an Effect on a Jury’s Decision?
A jury may take into consideration more than the extent of the medical harm suffered; they may also weigh the life-altering effects of your work-related injuries. A well-presented and thorough demonstration of how your life or family affairs were affected could persuade the jury to award an amount that takes into consideration a wider range of non-economic damages. Witness and plaintiff credibility can play a role in the jury’s deliberations. Medical reports can often help persuade a jury that the pain and emotional distress endured does not reflect any exaggerations.
Another important factor is your attorney’s ability to provide compelling evidence that another party, such as your employer or an equipment manufacturer, was fully responsible for the harm caused. If, for example, the jury feels that you caused some of the harm by failing to seek timely medical attention or follow the required safety procedures, a jury may find that you contributed to your injuries. An issue of “shared fault” could reduce the amount of the award the jury decides upon based on New York’s comparative negligence laws.
There’s No Need To Settle for Less Than What You’re Entitled To
If you were injured in an on-the-job accident, workers’ comp may help pay your medical expenses, but you shouldn’t set aside so easily the pain and emotional distress your injury caused. A serious work-related accident could leave you with a reduced quality of life. Why settle for less than you deserve?
Things could get complicated, but you may wish to consider all your options before committing to a plan of action. There’s much that you could lose by choosing the wrong approach. An attorney on the team at Cellino Law will review your case and advise you of your options in a no-fee consultation. Contact us now and learn how we can help you get the injury settlement you’re entitled to.
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