Despite the best actions of employers and employees, accidents on the job do happen. Whether an employee works behind a desk, drives behind a wheel, or stands behind a counter, things can go wrong and injuries can occur. Regardless of their nature, injuries and illnesses have financial, emotional, and personal costs – including lost wages, lost earning potential, and physical pain and suffering.
In the event of a job-related injury, laws are in place to protect workers’ rights. In every state but Texas, almost all employers are required by law to carry workers’ compensation insurance in order to cover medical expenses that result from work-related illnesses and injuries and to partially replace workers’ lost wages.
This mandate incurs a large cost for employers.
A report from the National Academy of Social Insurance indicated that per year 131 million U.S. workers were covered by workers’ compensation insurance at a cost of $85 billion dollars to employers. If those numbers seem extreme, consider these numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Nearly three million cases of non-fatal illness and injury were documented in the private sector in just one year, equal to a rate of 3.5 cases per every 100 full-time workers.
A key measure of the severity of injuries and illnesses is the median number of days away from work, which was eight days for that year, and virtually unchanged from the three previous years.
In just one year, nearly 4,700 workers died as a result of injuries sustained while at work – which translates to one worker dying every two hours from a job-related injury.
Highway incidents remain the most common cause of fatal occupational injuries, followed by falls, workplace homicides, and being struck by objects.
The private construction industry experienced the highest number of fatal occupational injuries (774), while the agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting industry had the highest fatal work injury rate (27.9 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers).
Work-related injuries have consequences not only for the employee, but their loved ones as well. Family members are often forced to assume the role of breadwinner if an injured employee is unable to work, which can place an unwanted burden on everyone involved. In some situations, family members may have to become temporary caretakers for the injured worker, especially if their recovery involves multiple visits to the doctor and extensive rehabilitation. Accordingly, if family members have to leave jobs (or reduce their working hours) in order to care for injured loved ones, additional financial insecurity and subsequent stress can result. Such role reversals can have a tremendous emotional impact on both the injured worker and their family, which can hamper the recovery process.
Fortunately, workers’ compensation (commonly referred to as workman’s comp) benefits can cover many of the medical costs associated with work-related injuries, as well as provide a portion of the injured employee’s lost wages.
However, the rules, regulations, and documentation necessary to pursue a worker’s compensation claim are state-specific and can be difficult to understand. For example, an occupational illness or injury must be reported to the employer as soon as possible in order to file a claim; however, the timeframe for doing so varies between states. If an employee fails to report their injury within the designated time frame, they may be denied benefits. Additionally, employers have the right to dispute an employee’s injury claim, but the process for doing so involves complicated legal maneuvers and procedures. Such a situation can be overwhelming for an employee – especially one who is dealing with the physical and emotional ramifications of an injury – and can leave them at a sizable disadvantage.
For these reasons, an attorney with experience handling workers’ compensation cases can be a great asset to an individual who has suffered a work-related injury or illness. They can explain the complicated workers’ compensation laws that apply to an individual’s circumstances, and they can manage the cumbersome and time-sensitive paperwork that is required in order to file a claim. In addition, most attorneys who specialize in workers’ compensation will provide a free consultation, and if hired, most will work on a contingency basis.
Attorneys with experience in workers’ compensation can provide valuable peace of mind during the often difficult recovery period that follows a work-related injury. Their efforts can benefit the injured worker and their family, and secure appropriate compensation to aid in the recovery process.