Occupational hazard lawsuits are main concern with any sized company and, for the personal safety of all concerned, employers are required by law to carry workers compensation insurance for their employees. The cost of this insurance will vary depending on the size of the business, the level of risk assumed by employees on a daily basis, and any previous accident history for the business. Employers may purchase the insurance directly through the state, by using a licensed insurance agency, or by establishing a fund to self-pay any claims made by workers.
PURPOSE OF WORKERS COMPENSATION IN HAZARDOUS OCCUPATIONS
The purpose of workers compensation is to provide medical expenses and income for workers injured from hazardous conditions on the job and to offset court costs if there is a dispute. If an employer does not carry workers compensation insurance, or if they file fraudulent papers to avoid paying higher premiums, the result could be disastrous for the business. A worker may sue to obtain the entire cost of medical treatment including pain and suffering, and the employer could be forced to pay higher premiums when they finally do obtain insurance.
WHEN TO CONSULT WITH AN OCCUPATIONAL WORK HAZARD ATTORNEY
If an employee feels that their current illness or injury was caused by an occupational work hazard they should contact an attorney. An attorney will have knowledge of state specific workers compensation laws and will be able to outline what the options are for settling the case. It is not always easy to obtain benefits from workers compensation policies and the employee may be asked to present substantial proof that the illness or injury in question was not caused by outside influences.
Illness is probably the hardest to collect workers compensation from since it can take years for symptoms to develop. In an attempt to save the business money, an employer working in conjunction with their insurance company can outright deny that the injury or illness is the result of hazardous working conditions. A denial letter from the insurance company for a claim may lead to refusal for medical treatment, and it is critical to consult an attorney long before this situation arises and you run out of money to pay for services.
Generally speaking, unionized workers are the most likely group to need workers compensation protection due to the hazardous conditions found at many of their jobs. Examples of unionized workers include carpenters, welders, masons and iron workers. At any of these jobs there is the potential for exposure to toxic gases, asbestos, faulty material, debilitating breaks and strains caused by a fall, and even death.
OSHA REGULATES SAFETY MEASURE AT WORK
In an attempt to protect workers in these hazardous occupations, OSHA sets threshold limit values for exposure to toxic substances including noise pollution in the workplace. OSHA is a government agency which also regulates safety measures which must be followed to comply with their standards, and failure to due so can result in hefty fines. Office workers may also be affected by hazardous conditions in the workplace such as asbestos, carpal tunnel syndrome, molds, and strains caused by moving boxes or office equipment.
PROVING THE CASE IN OCCUPATIONAL HAZARD LAWSUIT
The case for an occupational hazard lawsuit can be strengthened if the employee can prove that the employer knew of the risks associated with the job and did nothing to inform workers of the danger. Gross negligence can be extremely hard to prove and often requires extensive evidence that the employer committed a willful act against you. Depending on the type of insurance an employer purchases for his business, there may be different eligibility requirements for obtaining coverage from workers compensation and there is often a timeframe in which employees must report an incident to have it considered for coverage.
CASE STUDY-FORMER IBM EMPLOYEES LAUNCH OCCUPATIONAL HAZARD LAWSUIT
Several years ago two former employees of IBM filed an occupational hazard lawsuit against the company. The employees claimed that they developed cancer from the chemicals used at IBM to create processing chips. They also claimed that IBM was aware of the potential risk involved with using the particular chemical and neglected to inform all employees of associated risks.
It can take many years for symptoms of cancer to manifest, and with many air pollutants now labeled carcinogens (cancer causing), it is increasingly more difficult to hold businesses responsible for illness. Other former employees tried to sue the computer company claiming that they, too, had developed cancer from chemicals at the plant and some had children born with birth defects as a result of toxic exposure. IBM won the lawsuits since the workers could not pinpoint the cancer to the specific chemical used in the plant and many of the lawsuits were filed years after the guidelines set forth in the company’s worker compensation policy.
Unlike illness which can take years to develop, injury is usually very sudden and it is easier to locate the cause of such an accident. Let’s assume you work in a machine shop where metal drill bits are made. The noise level is above the threshold limit set by OSHA and your employer has been informed that all employees must be provided with protection for their ears. You employer decides to ignore these recommendations and you lose your hearing from working next to the loud machines. The cause of injury is easily identifiable and if the employer denies workers compensation you have grounds for an occupational hazard lawsuit.