- January 20, 2022
- Jed Strong
Because it is a national requirement from state to state, employees who are injured in the course of their job can obtain medical coverage in the form of worker’s compensation. Employers in every state are required by state law to carry an insurance policy to address workplace injuries and provide medical assistance. However, the question of legal liability and recovery through a lawsuit is another matter entirely. A lot depends on the details of the accident, who was at fault, whether that fault is shared, and what was done to reduce the harm and improve the recovery. This is known legally as mitigation of the event. Due to the fact that the law varies from state to state and a personal injury lawsuit for a burn injury is a very different avenue from a workers’ compensation claim, there’s a lot of room for potential confusion as well.
Remembering the Nature of a Burn Injury
Burns, in and of themselves, are serious injuries, both immediate and long-term. The immediate damage is obvious with the wound, pain and need for immediate medical care. However, in many serious burn cases, there is also a need for extensive recovery and rehabilitation, and there may be permanent scarring and emotional injuries as well. These won’t go away in a few days. Add in the fact of lost time from work and the possibility of not being able to function as well anymore due to permanent loss and scarring limitations, and the ability to earn a living in the future can also be handicapped.
Differences Between Workers’ Compensation & Lawsuit Recovery
Legal recovery and compensation provide returns in the form of agreed-upon additional help and, usually, financial payments. This is very different from the workers’ compensation process, which is geared to identifying and documenting the injury and ensuring the employee is provided the necessary medical assistance as much as possible. Where the workers’ compensation approach focuses on the immediate injury itself as well as initial recovery, legal recovery focuses on loss both now and into the future – something that is simply not part of workers’ compensation’s purpose.
Keep in mind that burn injuries tend to be like water damage in a building. The effect is far more than just the immediate contact area. Burns can occur in multiple ways, ranging from being electrocuted to simply touching something hot without warning. The damage often ranges from the visual (skin) to the structural (muscle and nerves). And, if there are hot gases involved, there can be inhalation damage as well.
Automatic Cases Don’t Happen
A burn in and of itself does not automatically guarantee lawsuit viability and success. In many cases, because of workers’ compensation, the avenues for an employee to sue for a workplace injury are limited. However, employers create all kinds of conditions that change the workplace, which can also create the dynamics for an injury risk to develop. Making modifications to the original workplace design can produce such dynamics. Moving employees into new working conditions without providing sufficient safety protocols can be another. Contractors or other employees’ not following existing safety protocols could be another. In short, burn causes come in all sizes and shapes, from coffee pots in the break room to bad wiring on a computer console. The cause of the burn is what creates the grounds for the lawsuit.
Typically, on a short-term injury absence, including burns, a person’s sick leave already provided as a benefit by an employer is used to cover time off. This then gets replaced by workers’ compensation so the employee is not penalized. Recovery via industrial and non-industrial disability coverage provides the initial financial help, replacing some lost wages for a long-term injury. However, there is oftentimes not full coverage for all related income loss.
The Nature of Responsibility Matters
The primary goal of a successful workplace burn lawsuit is to prove negligence or intentional action that resulted in an employee’s harm. The critical initial element is to be able to show that the injury occurred while someone was doing their job under the direction of the employer. A person who gets into a car accident while driving their fleet vehicle to a destination for an assignment has a clear relationship to work. The situation in which a person trips and falls at home and breaks their leg because they were carrying too many work binders to do work at home on their own is a very gray, ambiguous scenario. This is why the workers’ compensation process is the initial step and includes a significant review to answer these questions.
It’s then important that the employer has a duty to provide a protected workplace. While this seems obvious to most, the details of exactly how that duty should be met and to what extent is where things hinge.
The question then moves to whether the person was on work status and the employer violated their duty, and the employee was indeed injured as a result. If all three are met, then the employee has the potential to recover damages beyond just the workers’ compensation. The extent of the related recovery in a lawsuit depends on medical records, documentation of injury, the cost of rehabilitation and recovery and agreement on the financial representation of that damage.
Critical Expert Guidance Makes a Difference
Given all the above, it becomes very clear why burn injury lawyers are needed to go further than a workers’ compensation response for a workplace burn injury recovery.
- Can you sue if you get burned at work?
- Can you make a claim for a burn at work?
- Can you sue a restaurant for a burn?
The short answer to all three is, yes, assuming certain conditions are met. An attorney becomes a critical guide to help work through these questions effectively for a given case and increase the chances of filing a successful lawsuit.
Additional resources that can be referenced for more information include:
- U.S. Department of Labor – https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/workcomp
- OSHA Worker Rights and Protections – https://www.osha.gov/workers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – https://www.bls.gov/iif/
Get Legal Help for a Burn Injury at Work
If you have sustained a burn injury while you were on the job, you may have legal options. The best way to learn about what you should do next is to talk to an experienced attorney in your area. Call Strong Law at 206-741-1053 to speak to a skilled, compassionate injury lawyer and learn more about how our team can help you and your family recover.