Workplace Safety

Workplace safety is under assault in this country.  Worker safety requires a healthy balance between government regulation of the workplace, worker rights and civil justice.  Government regulation of the workplace has suffered with defunding of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.  Workers rights have suffered with the unbalanced promotion of pro-business judges to federal courts and the all-out assault on unions.  The courts have traditionally offered some protection to workers, while union contracts provided some balance in power against corporate employers.  Union contracts often contain safety requirements that workers can rely on to refuse an assignment.  Finally, when all else fails the civil justice system is meant to be there to hold negligent employers accountable for avoidable worker injuries.  However, laws including tort reform, immunity, preemption and workers compensation programs have eviscerated the workers ability to obtain fair compensation for workplace injuries.

When a worker is injured, workers compensation laws provide that some or all of the worker’s wages and medical bills be paid through the workers compensation fund, a large pool of money maintained by the state using premiums paid by employers.  However, the workers compensation system has becoming so distorted in favor of the employer that an injured worker’s injuries are often attributed to preexisting conditions, malingering or faking.  The worker is forced to see a company doctor who is paid to say that the worker is fit and able to work.  When benefits are made available, they are frequently insufficient.

In some cases, an injured worker can sue.  Depending on the state, a worker can sue his or her employer for an intentional tort if the employer consciously disregarded the worker’s rights and subjected the worker to a known hazard.  The laws have been greatly curtailed in many states.  For example, here in Ohio, a worker can only proceed with an intentional tort claim if the employer removed a safety guard thereby knowingly subjecting the employee to danger.

An injured worker may also be able to sue a third party if the third party caused his or her injury.  For example, if a road crew worker is hit by a car in a construction zone, the worker can sue the negligent driver.  Likewise, if the employee of one subcontractor drops a piece of equipment or building material onto the head of an employee of another contractor thereby causing a severe head injury, the injured worker can sue the third party contractor.

In a lawsuit arising out of a car or truck accident in the workplace, the usual rules of safety apply that apply to other motor vehicle accidents.  The police report generally dictates who is at fault and the at-fault motorist’s insurance company pays damages up to the applicable policy limit.

In other workplace settings, a personal injury lawyer will look to other sources for safety standards, such as OSHA requirements, state and federal regulations, industry standards, ASTM standards and other sources for safety information.

As with any severe personal injury claim, it is important to consult with an experienced catastrophic personal injury lawyer in Cleveland, OH, like from Mishkind Kulwicki Law Co., L.P.A., early in the process, so he or she can preserve evidence, interview witnesses and take photographs or video when needed to prepare a factual basis for the claim.