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What Workers Should Do if Hurt on the Job

Work-related injuries can have life-changing effects on victims. Unfortunately, every year, people are injured at work.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of workplace injuries and illnesses has been steadily dropping in the United States since 1972, when there were about 11 injuries per 100 workers for the year. In 2019, that number decreased to 2.8 per 100 workers.

Although the workplace environment may have become safer than it was in 1972, there is still much to be done to protect workers on the job. Even worse, fatalities occur far too often, with the BLS citing about 3.5 American workers per 100,000 dying of accidents and illnesses stemming from work since 2010.

In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, workers who are injured or become ill from circumstances at work are covered under Workers’ Compensation insurance.

In a worst-case scenario in which a worker dies of personal injury or illness from the job, there is a death benefit for the loved ones of the worker who died.

What to Do Following a Workplace Accident or Illness

Below are some important steps to take for an injured worker or their loved ones, if the worker cannot do so, following a workplace accident:

Seek medical attention. This may seem like an obvious first step, but there is often fear about seeking medical care following a workplace accident. This is an unnecessary fear. It is important to remember that Workers’ Compensation insurance is a safety net mandated by the state of New Jersey. Once a worker tells the employer of the injury, the employer will file with the insurance company and the care will be covered by this insurance system.

Prompt medical care is not just for the initial emergency, but is also essential for establishing the worker’s case, and information will be used to establish a care plan going forward for recuperation. The documentation from a medical practitioner of what injuries occurred will be evidence used by the insurance company. 

Having a medical record established for the injuries will also let the employer know if the worker needs to be switched to a different department or job when that employee is ready to go back to work.

For instance, a herniated spinal disk for a worker in a warehouse might require surgery and will definitely require physical therapy and occupational therapy. It might also mean that the worker needs to be restricted to lower-weight packages or perhaps a different job or department entirely in the organization.

Notify the employer. Seeking medical help and notifying the employer often happen simultaneously. The quicker the employer is notified of the incident, the better. It likely will happen right away if the worker needs medical care immediately at the scene. The employer is required to file a claim, and the claim should be filed promptly.  The notification protects Workers’ Compensation benefits for the employee and starts the claims process. Although notice does not have to be written under state law, lawyers recommend that this be written for documentation reasons. It can be an email, and a loved one or coworker can write down what happened if the worker cannot. Within 26 weeks after the worker returns to work or is released for full-time return to work by a doctor, the insurance carrier is required to submit another form to the state Department of Labor called the Subsequent Report of Injury. A copy of this report will also be sent to the worker.

Contact a Workers’ Compensation lawyer. This process is likely to be complex, and the medical care needed for the injured worker is likely to be time consuming. An experienced Workers’ Compensation lawyer can help the victim and the victim’s family get the compensation needed for recovery and communicate with insurance companies and medical providers involved. Some cases demand further financial compensation, such as when a defective product at work causes injury or death.

Report uninsured employers to the state. The law requires that all New Jersey employers, those not covered by federal programs, have Workers’ Compensation coverage or be approved for self-insurance. The self-insurance program has to be able to cover claims for worker injuries, illness, or death.

If a worker is aware of an uninsured employer, they may provide this information to the Office of Special Compensation Funds  by calling 609-292-0165 or by completing a Report of Non-Compliance form. The worker does not have to identify themselves, but they should provide their name and address.

In Pennsylvania, employers in almost all industries are required to carry Workers’ Compensation insurance. The exceptions here are also federal employees who already have coverage; union members who have coverage through the union; domestic workers; agricultural workers who make less than $1,200 a year or work less than 30 days a year; executives, who can opt out of the insurance for the company they lead; and those who have religious beliefs that conflict with the Workers’ Compensation insurance policy.

If a worker is told there is no coverage for injuries and illness on the job, this is illegal. Sometimes the insurance companies deny claims. Victims may need to fight to get the medical bills paid.

Victims should consult with a Workers’ Compensation lawyerif told that the injury would not be covered by insurance or if the victim is told that making a claim means the worker is fired or demoted. A lawyer will be able to advocate for the victim to seek compensation for the inevitable medical bills and for the injured worker’s rights.

What Workers’ Compensation Insurance Offers

Workers’ Compensation insurance is a safety net system that covers workers from the first day on the job. Like no-fault car insurance, these benefits are available regardless of who was at fault for the accident, for the injured worker or the loved ones of a worker who died.

Workers’ Compensation provides income to the injured worker, usually about two-thirds of the person’s salary, and covers medical bills from the incident. By signing up for the insurance, which most workers complete within the first few days of work, the worker is agreeing to take the Workers’ Compensation insurance package if an injury occurs at work, which means in essence that the worker will not hold the employer responsible for the injury. Because this limits financial costs to the employer and provides medical and financial coverage for the worker, Workers’ Compensation insurance is advantageous for both the worker and the employer.

The following is a list of what will be included under a Workers’ Compensation insurance case, from the first day on the job:

Medical bills. Beyond immediate emergency care on site, there may be a hospital stay, surgeries, occupational and physical therapy, needed medical equipment, and follow-ups with additional doctors. These will all be covered under the Workers’ Compensation insurance claim. If a worker dies of a work-related accident or illness, the medical bills associated with the deceased worker will be covered by the Workers’ Compensation claim.

Income coverage. This is referred to as a wage-loss benefit, is generally about two-thirds of a weekly paycheck, and it starts after the injured employee has lost seven days of work. This is another reason for the worker to let their employer know quickly that they need medical attention and are injured. The employer filing with the Workers’ Compensation insurance means that payment is likely to come promptly once all parties are made aware of the situation.

Temporary partial disability. This means that injured worker will be able to go back to work full time once recuperated from the incident but will work at a reduced level until given approval for full-time work by a doctor. The injured employee receives about 70 percent of weekly pay.

Temporary total disability. Like temporary partial disability benefits, this benefit is for workers who will be returning to work following release from medical care. For patients who may not recover or be released by medical care for work, these benefits are converted to permanent disability benefits.

Permanent partial disability. This often means the loss of a body part, which can include fingers and toes along with hands, arms, legs, feet, eyes, and ears. The employee receives a lump-sum payment once their temporary disability benefits end, as well as partial disability payments weekly because of persistent injuries.

Permanent total disability. Permanent total disability benefits continue after 450 weeks if the employee has reached their maximum level of recovery, cannot return to work, and is deemed to be less than 50 percent recovered. These benefits are also paid when a combination of injuries makes it difficult for the employee to obtain gainful employment.

Death benefits. The loved ones of a worker who died of a work-related incident or illness will receive 70 percent of that worker’s weekly pay, divided among the spouse and children. Dependents of a deceased employee receive 70 percent of the worker’s weekly pay. Children receive benefits until they turn 18, but benefits extend to age 23 for full-time college students. Death benefits include a $3,500 payment to go toward burial or funeral expenses, which does not in any way reflect the cost of most funerals, but this will reduce the bill that the surviving loved ones pay.

Third-Party Lawsuits

Not all work accidents are the same, and the benefits from Workers’ Compensation insurance are limited. Injured workers should consider what other financial compensation options may be available for their case. In some cases, there is a defective product, a product that was marketed incorrectly, or a product that was designed incorrectly that caused a work accident.

Victims must remember that there are time limits for filing a lawsuit against the manufacturer and/or retailer of the defective product. In New Jersey, that statute of limitations for filing a products liability case is two years from the date of injury.

An important point to remember here for those injured in a work accident who fear jeopardizing the Workers’ Compensation insurance agreement: With a third-party lawsuit, the victim in not filing suit against the employer, but is instead targeting manufacturers, contractors, distributors, suppliers, or installers of dangerous products, chemicals, or equipment that may have caused the accident or been a factor in it.

A third-party lawsuit can be filed along with a Workers’ Compensation claim and is called for if a device malfunctioned; equipment failed; dangerous chemicals were used; or workers were not aware of the proper procedures for using the device, equipment, or chemicals. In the case of the death of a worker, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed against these third-party companies or groups to increase the compensation package for loved ones and dependents of the worker who died.

Products liability lawsuits generally fall into these four categories:

Design defects. This means that a product was made to specifications, but the design contained a danger for users. An example that many parents may be unfortunately familiar with is playground equipment or nursery cribs and juvenile beds with bars set just far enough apart for a child to get their head stuck in between. Like a manufacturing defect, this may be the target of a product recall and likely, a class action lawsuit.

Manufacturing defects. The Legal Information Institute’sdefinition of a manufacturing defect is when a product departs from its intended design and is more dangerous than what consumers expect the product to be. One example that many consumers may have experienced involves ready-to-assemble furniture items that routinely fall apart or become tip-over dangers for people in the home, particularly dangerous for small children.

Marketing defects. This is also called failure to warn and means injuries may have resulted from the customers not being adequately warned about the dangers of the products. According toBlack’s Law Dictionary, a marketing defect is a failure to adequately communicate instructions on proper safe item use.

The marketing defects case has been most famously used in a 64-year-old lung cancer patient’s 2002 lawsuit against a tobacco giant Philip Morris, now Altria Group.  The cancer patient’s claim was that the company failed to warn of the risks of smoking when she was a teenager and started a lifelong habit.

Consumers often encounter commercials on radio and television that warn of side effects from an advertised pharmaceutical product. These side effects seem to be many and often are frightening to hear. The pharmaceutical manufacturer is trying to avoid a marketing defects case with that lengthy list of problems known to occur with the drug being advertised.

Packaging defects. There is a lot of thought that goes into product packaging. The primary purpose is to get a customer to buy one product over another, but as the old saying goes: looks are not everything. The defective packaging lawsuit is a likely option when the packaging fails to inform the customer about potential dangers and instructions for safe use. Packaging also needs to be effective to keep products inside from falling out or poking out in such a way that it injures the customer. For example, if the product being purchased is a box of knives, the packaging has to ensure that the knives stay securely in place. Also, customers should be instructed by the packaging of the safe way to open the box.

Common Work Accidents

Accidents are part of life, and since so much of human life is spent at work, it is inevitable that there will be accidents at work. The types of accidents that are most common are the ones many people would immediately guess, such as the following:

Slip and fall accidents. This is the most common type of work accident. These often occur on wet floors, defective ladders, faulty scaffolding, roofs, storage shelves, or damaged floors. Although the injuries from these types of accidents may be as simple as bruises, they could also result in serious head injury, paralysis, or death. Workers in kitchens, those who work on factory floors, roofers, and construction workers are particularly vulnerable to these kinds of workplace injuries.

Overexertion.  Accidents involving overexertion occur often in the health care industry, where patients may need to be moved in an emergency situation with little or no help to lift them from other workers. Overexertion could result in lower back strains or vertebrae damage, and employees should report these accidents immediately. It may be a long-term injury for the worker to handle, and a medical evaluation should be performed right away.

Electrocutions.  Victims of this kind of work hazard are likely to suffer from burns, nerve damage, internal injuries, potential brain injuries, or organ damage. It can also kill workers.

Falling objects. This problem can happen anywhere, but it is a common cause of injuries in construction sites and warehouses.

Chemical spills. Workers in facilities that use, store, or produce chemicals or hazardous fluids may have unwanted spills or toxic fumes flowing into the facility. A chemical spill can cause burns, or the fumes may cause respiratory damage or may lead to a disabling condition such as blindness.

Vehicle accidents. Employees may drive as a part of work. Increasingly, this is a cause of work-related injuries. This category includes truck drivers; delivery drivers, who may not be in a truck but a personal car; and others.

What Industries are Workers Most Likely to Get Hurt on the Job?

It is well known that truck drivers are required to work long stretches without a break; have strict deadlines for delivery; face physical constraints of remaining seated for long periods; and deal with the always changing challenges of the road. Many know that truck drivers tend to get hurt on the job quite a bit, and truck accidents are usually catastrophic for all involved.

But what may be surprising is that driving a truck is not on the top of the list of those occupations most likely to get hurt on the job; it is actually second. Here is the list, according to BLS statistics:

Nursing assistants and health care workers have the dubious honor of being the number one workplace injury profession. The BLS estimates about 370 of every 10,000 full-time equivalent, 40 hours or more per week, injured U.S. workers is a nursing assistant.

Heavy truck and tractor trailer drivers make up about 360 of every 10,000 injuries among U.S workers, and transportation incidents make up 40 percent of both the national and state fatal accidents in 2019, according to the BLS.

The following are workers most likely to be injured on the job:

  • Laborers.
  • Light truck drivers; this type of truck is separated from tractor trailers for the BLS report because more injuries happen with tractor trailers and heavy trucks than light trucks.
  • Construction laborers.
  • Maintenance and repair workers.
  • Warehousing industry workers.
  • Janitors and cleaners.
  • Registered nurses.
  • Retail salespersons.

Of course, health care workers, such nursing assistants, and truck drivers are both occupations that employ people year round, regardless of pandemics or economic downturns. In fact, there was heavy demand for both health care workers and truck drivers throughout the recent pandemic and the economic fallout that has come with it.

Laborers may be hired for seasonal work, and this is common for agricultural labor in particular.

Workplace Injuries Most Likely to Cause Multiple Days of Lost Work

The most common workplace injury the BLS records is sprains, strains, and tears. One important thing to note is that although the most common injury is in the sprains/strains/tears category, that type of injury does not cause people to lose the most time at work.

Of course, all injuries are different, and some patients heal quicker than others. However, the following injuries are more likely to demand multiple days out of work to recuperate:

  • Multiple injuries with fractures
  • Fractures
  • Amputations
  • Multiple traumatic injuries
  • Multiple injuries with sprains
  • Heat/thermal burns
  • Cuts, lacerations, and punctures
  • Chemical burns

Cherry Hill Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Kotlar, Hernandez & Cohen, LLC Help Workers Obtain the Benefits They Deserve

If you or a loved one has been injured during an accident at work, reach out to the Cherry Hill Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Kotlar, Hernandez & Cohen, LLC.  Our experienced legal team can help with both Workers’ Compensation and third-party claims. We can help you ensure you receive all the benefits for which you are entitled now and in the future. Call us at 856-751-7676 or contact us online for a free consultation. Our offices are in Mount Laurel, Cherry Hill, Trenton, and Vineland, New Jersey; and Trevose, Pennsylvania. We serve clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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