What Is the Benefit of Filing a Workplace Injury Lawsuit?
There are several reasons why a workplace injury claim could be helpful for you:
- Opportunity for more compensation. Wage replacement is typically around two-thirds of a worker’s average wage with a workers’ compensation claim, but there is a cap. A lawsuit gives you the chance to recover the full amount of your lost wages.
- Access to additional damages. Sometimes an employer’s conduct is so egregious that the court sees fit to award punitive damages to an injured worker. The idea is to “punish” the employer financially, with the hope that they will be deterred from repeating their mistakes.
- Third-party liability. Some jobs tend to be on sites where multiple contractors are working. It may be possible to sue for damages from a third party if it can be shown that their negligence resulted in your getting hurt on the job. For example, if a faulty piece of machinery caused your injury, you may be able to file a claim against the manufacturer of that equipment.
How Our Work Injury Attorneys Handle Workplace Injury Claims
We will conduct an independent investigation of your accident to determine if:
- Unsafe work conditions caused your injury.
- Inadequate safety and poor training played a role.
- Faulty equipment or a negligent coworker caused your injuries.
- Any third party may be held liable.
Then we take a multi-pronged approach to address the case thoroughly.
- Notify OSHA. All employers are required to notify OSHA if a worker is killed or is hospitalized for a work-related injury, amputation or eye loss. In the event of death, the incident must be reported within 8 hours. Employers have 24 hours to report other serious accidents. Our attorneys often report accidents to OSHA so that a government investigation can take place.
- Safety review. We will examine the workplace conditions to see what (if any) safety violations resulted in your injury. We will interview safety managers and coworkers. We will find out whether factors such as bad training, poor hiring or failure to perform safety inspections or meet other standards contributed to the accident.
- Obtain evidence. Our work injury lawyers will leave no stone unturned when looking for evidence to support your claim. That includes collecting relevant video footage, photographs, work logs, equipment, tools, eyewitness statements and more.
- Build a case to prove negligence. Winning a work injury claim involves meeting the legal definition of negligence in Texas. The case must be able to prove several things: that the employer owed a duty of care to you (to protect you on the job), that the duty was breached (through some violation) and that it resulted in measurable injuries to you.
- Negotiate a settlement or talk about trial. Any settlement reached between you and your employer must be approved by the Texas Workers’ Compensation Commissioner. There are complex rules about settlements and you give up significant rights by settling, so it is very important to seek advice from counsel to ensure that you understand the process.
Common Industries for Workplace Accidents in Texas
Job injuries can happen anywhere. However, some industries are inherently more dangerous because of the nature of the work. Serious injuries are often reported in fields including:
- Crane Falls and Collapses
- Industrial jobs
- Ladder Falls
- Heavy machinery repair and installation
- Air transportation
- Oil refineries
- Oil spills
- Law enforcement
- Structural iron and steelwork
- Heating and air conditioning installation
- Electrical installation and repair
- Loading Docks
- Trash and recycling collection
- Driving/truck driving
- Health care
- Conveyor Belts
- Warehouse Accidents
- Window Washing Falls
- Out of State Accidents
Workplace Injuries Come in Many Forms
A job injury doesn’t have to be gruesome to have a serious effect on your life. Some of the most severe injuries can be invisible to the naked eye but render an individual permanently disabled. Other serious and deadly medical conditions may not even emerge until decades after the worker has retired. Even seemingly minor repetitive injuries can become more than mere nuisances without proper medical care.
Examples of workplace injuries include:
- Sprains, strains and tears
- Bone fractures
- Cuts, lacerations, and punctures
- Soreness and pain
- Bruises and contusions
- Traumatic brain injury
- Spinal cord injury
- Thermal burns
- Chemical burns
- Toxic substance inhalation
- Blindness and deafness
- Workplace violence
- Sexual harassment
These types of injuries may be the result of:
- Slips, trips and falls
- Contact with an object or equipment
- Being struck by a falling object
- Transportation crashes
- Exposure to harmful substances
- Loud noise
- Machine entanglement
- Repetitive motion
- Reaction injuries (slipping or tripping, but not falling)
- Walking into objects
It’s important to know that not every injury or illness can be connected to the workplace. Some medical conditions, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, can certainly be aggravated by working on a computer all day. But a variety of other factors (age, gender, prior medical history) could also be to blame for the illness. Proving causation is key if you seek to hold your employer accountable for negligence. Our workplace injury lawyers can help identify whether your injury is linked to your job and advise you on the next steps toward compensation.
Workers Rights and a Safe Working Environment
Sadly, we see news stories every day that cover injured workers whose lives are forever changed by an accident at work. They bring to light the dangerous working conditions for dairy farmworkers, the many deaths that plague agricultural workers in general every year and the significant injuries and deaths that those who work on construction sites face every day.
Under federal law, employers are required to provide a safe workplace. Sadly, the failure to abide by the laws and regulations in place to protect workers often results in workers getting injured or killed on the job.
My Employer has Unsafe Work Practices
If your employer has failed to ensure that safe working conditions are present, you can report the violation (ideally in writing) to the employer and to the federal and/or state OSHA office. In addition, under some circumstances, you have the right to refuse to work, such as if:
- You (as the worker) have a reasonable, good-faith belief that the condition poses an immediate and substantial risk of serious physical injury or death;
- The employer will not fix the dangerous condition;
- The immediacy of the issue does not allow you to first report the condition to OSHA or another appropriate state agency; and
- You do not have a reasonable alternative.
Your employer is prohibited, by law, from retaliating against you if you file a complaint about unsafe working conditions.
Who do I Notify When I am Injured at Work?
If you are injured at work, immediately inform your supervisor so that you preserve your right to receive workers’ compensation, if applicable.
How do I Know if My Employer has Violated OSHA Standards?
OSHA provides employees and their representatives with the right to file a complaint and request an OSHA inspection of their workplace if they believe that their employer is not following OSHA standards. It is important to note that workers do not have to know whether a specific OSHA standard has been violated in order to file this complaint. However, you do need to act quickly: OSHA citations may only be issued for violations that currently exist or existed in the past six months.
If you are concerned that you are potentially dealing with a dangerous working condition, or you have already been injured on the job, speak with one of our experienced work injury attorneys right away. We service clients in and around Houston, Texas. Contact us today for a consultation and we will discuss the next steps.
At work it is just a matter of time before the next worker is injured. What can I do?
In addition to complying with the standards, rules, and regulations under the OSH Act of 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) puts forth several key responsibilities for employers, such as:
- Providing a workplace free from serious recognized hazards;
- Examining workplace conditions to make sure they comply with relevant legal standards;
- Making sure employees have and use safe tools and equipment;
- Properly maintaining this equipment;
- Using whatever is necessary to warn employees about potential hazards (such as color codes, posters, labels, and/or signs);
- Establishing or updating procedures and communicating them as necessary such that employees can follow safety and health requirements;
- Providing safety training in a language (using vocabulary) that workers can understand;
- If you work with hazardous chemicals in the workplace, developing and implementing a written hazard communication program and training employees on proper precautions that should be taken, making a copy of safety data sheets ready available to said employees;
- Providing medical examinations and training when required by the standards;
- Posting the OSHA poster in a prominent location within the workplace so that employees are informed of their rights and responsibilities;
- Reporting all work-related fatalities within eight hours and inpatient hospitalizations, amputations, and/or loss of eyes within 24 hours to the nearest OSHA office;
- Keeping records of all work-related injuries and illnesses (with certain exemptions);
- Providing all current and former employees and their representatives with access to the log of work-related injuries and illnesses;
- Providing access to employee medical and exposure records to employees and their authorized representatives;
- Providing the OSHA compliance officer with the names of authorized employee representatives who may accompany the officer during inspections;
- Ensuring that they do not discriminate against employees who exercise their rights (i.e. following the law on Whistleblower protection);
- Posting OSHA citations at or near the work area involved; and
- Correcting any cited violations by the deadline established in the OSHA citation; while following up by submitting the required abatement verification documentation.
Employers have a vested interest in keeping workers healthy and free from injury. In order to do this, not only should employers have procedures and protocols for protecting workers from getting injured in the first place, but also workers’ compensation coverage to ensure that anyone who is injured is taken care of. In fact, some employers have taken it upon themselves to provide their employees with free or low-cost medical services at or nearby their worksites. Ultimately, being transparent about workplace injuries benefits everyone.
Employer Responsibilities For Job Sites
While most states require employers to purchase insurance for the state workers’ compensation program (as well as other state-mandated programs, where applicable, such as disability, health insurance, etc.), Texas does not require this of employers. Workers’ compensation insurance typically insulates the employer from being liable with respect to certain workplace injuries, thus, if an employer elects to go without coverage, they could be liable for any damages due to injuries employees suffer on the job.
What is a Non-Subscriber?
An employer is a “non-subscriber” if it goes without coverage, and is thus open to personal injury lawsuits from any incidents that occur at work. It is also important to note that certain defenses that are available in many personal injury lawsuits, such as contributory negligence or assumption of risk, are not available to non-subscribers in these types of work injury cases.
How do I know if my injury is covered?
What Notices and Waivers are Important?
When hired, workers must be notified whether their employer does or does not have coverage, and this notice must be posted along with other required workplace posters. The notice must also notify workers that they have five days to waive their right to workers’ compensation benefits and retain their right to sue the employer for a work-related injury.
If a worker waives his or her right to workers’ compensation, he or she also waives the right to receive benefits under the workers’ compensation law. In addition, workers’ compensation benefits are typically only available to employees (versus independent contractors); thus, it is vital that workers are also properly classified as employees.
It is Important for Employees to Follow an Employer’s Safety Procedures
Under the law, regardless of fault, an injury or illness is covered if it was sustained in the course of employment. However, there are also circumstances under which an injury or illness will not be covered, such as if it was sustained due to the employees:
- Willful criminal acts;
- Intoxication from drugs or alcohol;
- Voluntary participation in an off-duty recreational activity;
- A third party’s criminal act (if directed against the employee for personal reasons unrelated to work); or
- Acts of God.
In other words, if you are injured and you were involved in one of these activities, it could be difficult to obtain compensation to help with your medical expenses and any lost wages.
Investigating Construction Site Accidents
Many people remember the incident of the Mast Climbing Platform Collapse in Austin, Texas in June of 2009 when three construction employees of Capoera Construction were killed when a mast climbing platform collapsed at a condominium project under construction.
When incidents like these occur, and they result in one or more worker fatalities (and sometimes multi-million dollar property loss, lawsuits, and/or settlements), investigations are typically performed at the request of an OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) field office as part of an enforcement inspection. The reports that come out of these investigations typically contain professional opinions from the investigating engineer, opinions concerning the root cause of the incident, and factual data and findings.
However, the incident does not have to involve fatalities: For example, just recently, the federal agency started investigating two construction companies after a roof collapse injured several workers. OSHA is charged with determining how the incident could have occurred and what needs to be done to prevent it from occurring again. If violations of OSHA standards are found, the agency then issues citations and monetary penalties.
OSHA Construction Regulations
When it comes to general safety and health provisions, OSHA has a number of requirements for construction site employers in order to ensure that workers are safe. Those requirements pertain to:
- Safety training and education;
- Recording and reporting of injuries;
- First aid and medical attention;
- Fire protection and prevention;
- Personal protective and lifesaving equipment;
- Acceptable certifications;
- Employee emergency action plans;
- Occupational noise exposure;
- Gases, vapors, fumes, dust, and mists;
- Process safety management of highly hazardous chemicals;
- Hazard communication;
- Requirements for particular substances, such as methylenedianiline, lead, and others;
- Occupational foot protection;
- Electrical protective equipment;
- Head protection;
- Hearing, eye, and face protection;
- Respiratory protection;
- Safety belts, lifelines, and lanyards;
- Safety nets; and more.
What To Do if There has Been an Incident
If you are involved in an incident at your workplace, consider following these steps:
- Administer first aid or call 911 for emergency care.
- Ensure that local law enforcement has been notified of the situation;
- Secure the area, preserve the scene as is;
- Collect information and preserve evidence (include basic information such as the address/location, any immediate safety concerns, the status of everyone involved, etc.); and
- Interview work colleagues and witnesses (include basic information such as location at time of incident, chronology of what happened, observations not just of occurrences but statements, any injuries sustained and/or observed, any evidence collected, such as cell phone pictures or videos, etc.).
Wrongful Death in the Workplace
Nobody can prepare for the pain of learning that a loved one died in an accident on the job. No legal remedy can possibly erase the grief. However, there may be resources available to ease the financial impact of workplace death. Families and eligible dependents are entitled to death benefits from Texas employers that opt into the state workers’ compensation insurance.
Death benefits are monthly payments that equal 75 percent of the deceased employee’s average weekly wage, up to a maximum set each year. Specific rules apply to who can receive the benefits and for how long the payments can continue based on the individual’s relationship to the deceased. Workers’ comp will also pay for up to $10,000 in burial costs.
In general, workers’ compensation would be the only way that a deceased worker’s survivors could obtain benefits for subscribers. But there is an exception in Texas. If the death occurred due to gross negligence or an intentional oversight, it is possible to bring a wrongful death claim against the employer. Of course, non-subscribers may also face wrongful death lawsuits.
While death benefits are helpful, they are not always good enough to cover a family’s losses. A successful wrongful death claim can provide compensation for:
- Funeral expenses
- Lost income and future earning capacity
- Loss of future inheritance
- Cost of bereavement therapy
- Emotional anguish
- Loss of counsel (advice, guidance, childcare)
- Loss of companionship
- Punitive damages
In Texas, families have two years from the date of death to file a wrongful death lawsuit against an employer. Our workplace injury lawyers can assist in the preparation of the claim and also talk to you about the possibility of filing a survival claim on behalf of the deceased.
What to Look for When Hiring a Houston Work Injury Attorney
Searching for an appropriate attorney is not easy. There is no “one size fits all” law firm. In a huge state like Texas, it can be overwhelming to see the number of work injury lawyers available to you. So where to start?
- Interview the attorneys. The good news about personal injury law firms is that consultations are almost always free. That gives you the chance to meet the attorney and see if he or she is a good fit. You want someone who has experience with workplace injury claims. While attorneys are trained in law school to handle all sorts of claims, it’s a good idea to hire a lawyer who dedicates a sizable chunk of his or her practice to workplace injuries. You can also verify that the attorney is licensed to practice in Texas by visiting the State Bar website and clicking on its Find a Lawyer tab.
- Ask around. See if anyone you know has worked with the attorney before. At a minimum, you can look at online reviews to see what others have had to say about the lawyer.
- Go with your gut. Verifying credentials and experience is essential whenever you hire an attorney. But if you find several you like, go with your instincts about the one you like best. You should never feel pressured to choose during a consultation.
Our Houston work injury lawyers handle all cases on a contingency fee basis. That means that you don’t pay unless we win your case. Contact Houston injury lawyer Michael P. Fleming & Associates, P.C., now for a free consultation to find out more about how we can help with your workplace injury claim. Click here for directions.