All workers throughout our state and nation have the right to a reasonably safe workplace. Most of the time, employers respect this right, following Occupational Health and Safety (OSHA) regulations as they pertain to workplace safety and worker training. However, this isn’t always the case, and even when it is, workplace injuries are still possible.
The National Safety Council (NSC) reports that every seven seconds, a worker is injured on the job. When a worker is injured at work, they have a right to recovery, including the recovery of compensation for their medical expenses, as well as a portion of their lost wages in many cases. If you have been involved in a workplace injury, our experienced lawyers at The Masters Law Firm can help you understand your rights. Please call us today to learn how we can help.
Common Types of Workplace Injuries
All workplaces have the potential to be dangerous. Indeed, even an office worker who doesn’t engage in manual labor could slip and fall or could develop a repetitive stress injury. That being said, those who work around heavy equipment or machinery, such as construction workers, natural gas industry workers, loggers, and coal miners are at a much higher risk of injury.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in West Virginia, the most common causes of worker injury are:
Exposure to harmful substances or environments;
Falls, slips, and trips;
Contact with objects and equipment; and
Violence and “other injuries by persons or animals.”
In the construction industry specifically, falls, machinery (caught-in/between) accidents, struck by object, and electrocution injuries are the leading causes of worker injury and death. Injuries in certain industries, such as coal miners, may also be at risk of explosion-related injuries, including burns or injuries due to mine roof collapse or mine rib falls. In the natural gas industry, injuries from equipment, earth collapse, or explosions can occur.
At The Masters Law Firm, we represent construction workers, coal miners, workers in the gas industry, and others in dangerous industries who have been injured at work. We can help you to bring forth a claim and understand your rights regardless of the industry in which you work or the type of accident in which you’ve been involved.
Types of Construction Site Accidents
Construction sites pose many different hazards. At the average construction site, one may encounter heavy machinery, potentially deadly equipment, workers working at high heights, heavy objects being suspended overhead, and much more.
While good construction management and safety practices often prevent accidents and injuries, errors and negligence can lead to serious harm. Some of the most common types of construction site accidents include:
Falls from heights. Working at a high height is dangerous, and falls are possible. Falls are more likely in the event that safety gear–such as a harness–is defective or is not properly utilized, or if scaffolding or other important structuring collapses or is not used when it should be.
Electrocution injuries. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that electrocution injuries are one of the leading causes of construction worker death.
Slips, trips, and falls. Wet or slippery surfaces, unstable walking areas, the lack of proper footwear, loose cords or wires, unsecured objects, and more all increase the risk of a slip, trip, and fall accident.
Motor vehicle accidents. Accidents involving motor vehicles can be deadly. These might occur within a contained site (i.e. a construction worker is struck by another worker driving a job site truck), or on a roadside construction site, where the worker is struck by a third-party driver.
Caught in/between machinery accidents. Another common cause of construction worker death is being caught in or in-between machinery. If this type of accident is not fatal, it can result in amputation injuries and other serious harm.
Falling objects. If objects overhead are not properly secured–such as metal rods being lifted by a crane–they can cause serious damage when they fall.
Liability for a Construction Site Accident
When a construction site accident occurs and someone is injured, it’s important that the harmed person recover compensation for their losses. Who was injured and who was responsible will play a significant role in how compensation works.
If you are a construction worker who is injured on a construction site, you are likely covered under your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance. This type of insurance provides compensation for your medical expenses, as well as a portion of your lost wages. Per the workers’ comp system, you are generally prevented (in most cases) from filing a lawsuit against your employer in exchange for no-fault benefits. This also means that you don’t have to prove the negligence of another party in order to recover compensation. Your time limit to file a workers’ compensation injury claim in West Virginia is very short — six months from the date of the injury.
However, if your employer violates known safe work standards or specific workplace safety laws, an employee may be able to file a civil suit in West Virginia in addition to filing a workers’ compensation claim.
If you are injured on-the-job by the acts of another contractor on the worksite, who is not your employer, you may file a claim or civil suit for your damages against the contractor, in addition to filing a workers’ compensation claim.
If you are not a worker, however, you will not qualify for workers’ comp. For example, if you were just acting as a pedestrian who was passing by a construction site when a falling object hit you on the head, you cannot seek workers’ compensation benefits. You can, however, file a personal injury claim against the construction company (or whoever was responsible for the accident).
A personal injury claim allows the injured party to seek compensation for noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering; a workers’ compensation claim does not. That being said, there are many cases when an injured construction worker will not be fully compensated by workers’ comp alone.
When this is the case, and when the negligence of a party other than the worker’s employer was the cause of the accident, the worker may consider filing a third-party liability claim. This is merely a personal injury claim brought by the worker against the party (other than the employer) responsible for their injuries, such as the manufacturer of defective construction equipment.
Your Rights When Injured at Work
When an on-the-job accident occurs and a worker is injured, that same worker may be afraid to file a claim for compensation or hold their employer responsible, fearing employer retaliation. It is against the law for employers to retaliate against employees who exercise their legal right to file a workers’ compensation claim. If your employer has retaliated against you, call our law firm immediately for help.
When you are injured at work, you have the right to compensation. The vast majority of employers in West Virginia must carry workers’ compensation insurance per the law. Workers’ compensation insurance offers no-fault coverage to workers who are injured on the job. If you are harmed at work, you maintain the right to bring forth a claim for workers’ comp benefits. In West Virginia, a workers’ compensation injury claim or claim for death due to an injury must be filed within six months of the date of injury or death.
In addition to filing a workers’ compensation claim–which provides you with certain benefits regardless of fault and offers your employer immunity from liability–you may also have a cause of action to bring forth a third-party claim for damages. This type of legal action is a civil lawsuit against a third party whose negligence caused your injury, such as the property owner where your accident occurred (if someone other than your employer), or the driver of a vehicle that hit you or an independent contractor on your worksite. We handle these type of cases and are very experienced in seeking compensation from third parties who injure people in the workplace.
In some limited cases, an employer with workers’ compensation coverage who violates known safe work standards or specific workplace safety laws can still be sued directly in West Virginia. West Virginia Code §23-4-2 allows these types of cases, often called “deliberate intent” cases, although that description is misleading because the law does not require you to prove that an employer deliberately intended to harm you. Deliberate intent claims are very complicated, however, and there are several factors that need to be established to maintain a civil suit against an employer who causes a worker to suffer a serious compensable injury. There are also requirements that need to be met, for example obtaining certificates of merit from an expert, before you can file and maintain this type of case. We likewise handle these very complicated cases. Let us put our experience to work for you.
What to Do if You Get Injured on the Job
When a worker gets hurt on the job, there are several things they should do in order to protect their health and protect their right to be compensated:
Get to a Safe Place
If a workplace injury occurs in an area where there is a lot of traffic and a lot of things going on, this makes the injured worker vulnerable to additional harm. When this happens, the first priority is to move to a safer and more out-of-the-way place. Once you have moved to safety, it will be easier to attend to your injuries.
Get Prompt Medical Attention
There may be someone nearby who is qualified to administer first aid. This might be all that is required for the moment, but there are some situations in which there are serious and life-threatening injuries, and an ambulance should be called right away. In either case, be sure to get checked out by a medical professional as soon as possible. Getting prompt medical help is important not only to treat your injuries and get you on the road to recovery, but also to document your injuries and what caused them, which will be essential when you file a claim for compensation.
Report the Injury
As soon as possible after getting hurt at work or after noticing the effects of a repetitive stress injury or an illness that comes on over time, you should report the injury to a manager or supervisor. This should be done regardless of who caused the injury or even if you might have contributed to it.
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system, so you should qualify for benefits no matter what caused the workplace accident (in most cases). However, if you wait to report what happened until your condition becomes more severe, it could complicate your workers’ comp claim. You might also be running up against reporting deadlines, which could put you at risk of getting your claim denied if you miss the deadline.
Gather Information and Keep Records of the Injury
Reporting the workplace injury to your employer is an important step, but you should retain your own documentation (of the injury) as well. Having your own records helps ensure that you receive the correct amount of workers’ comp benefits, and these records will also be very helpful if you end up in a dispute with your employer or the insurer, or if you end up filing a personal injury claim against another at-fault party.
While you are at the scene of the accident or nearby, take photos from multiple angles in order to have visual evidence of what happened. If you are unable to take the photos, have someone else do it for you. Write a detailed report of your injury or record it on your smartphone while everything is still fresh in your mind. Obtain statements from any individuals who witnessed the event as well.
Talk to a Lawyer to Understand your Legal Rights and Options
Most West Virginia employers have workers’ compensation coverage, and if your employer has it, you should qualify for benefits after a workplace injury. The workers’ comp claims process can be complicated and confusing, however, and insurance companies sometimes wrongfully deny injured workers the benefits that they deserve. To ensure a smooth claims process, it is best to work with an experienced workplace accident attorney.
Types of Benefits Provided Per Workers’ Compensation Insurance
Filing a claim under your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance can yield compensation that you need to pay for some of your losses after being injured at work. Types of benefits provided by West Virginia workers’ compensation insurance include:
Medical benefits. You may seek compensation for the full value of your necessary and reasonable medical expenses. There are no deductibles for treatment for your work injury.
Temporary total disability benefits. If you are unable to work as you recover from your injury, or if you are able to work but at a lesser capacity than you were prior to the injury, you may be able to recover some wage replacement benefits.
Permanent total disability benefits. If the extent of your injury is such that you are permanently prevented from returning to any work and you meet threshold requirements for a certain amount of permanent impairment of your whole body, you can be partially compensated for lost wages going forward.
Permanent partial disability benefits. If your injury causes you to have permanent impairment to the functioning of part of your body, say for example, permanent loss of range of motion of your shoulder and arm, you can be compensated for that partial or total loss of functioning of a body part.
Vocational rehabilitation benefits. If your injury permanently prevents you from returning to your old job or a job that you have the skills to do, you can receive help in finding a different job you can do with your limitations, or receive retraining for a new job that makes you a comparable wage to what you were making before you were hurt. You can also receive partial wage replacement payment while you are looking for a new job or receiving retraining.
Death benefits. In the event that a workplace injury results in death, surviving family members may be entitled to compensation for death benefits.
It is very important when you are injured on the job to report your injury to your employer immediately. It is equally important that you timely file a Workers’ Compensation claim, in writing. Your rights to seek compensation within the Workers Compensation system and in a separate civil suit can depend upon you timely filing a Workers Compensation claim.
Call Our West Virginia Workplace Injury Lawyers Today
Being injured at work can be scary, especially when it means a disability, high medical bills, and lost wages. For assistance in understanding your rights and recovering the settlement you deserve, call The Masters Law Firm today at 304-342-3106 or toll free at 1-800-342-3106, or send us a message using the online form on our website.