At the end of August 2020, two workers lost their lives at the North Gate Commerce Parkway in Suffolk, Virginia. Outlets reported an industrial accident at the Amazon Fulfillment Center job site. The alleged structural collapse at the location and the tragedy surrounding the victims’ families, the contractor, and Amazon itself will open, most likely, a path for settlements and even court trials. There is little update surrounding any party’s liability in this case. Yet, until we hear further news, this tragic incident reminds us all that none of us should take the idea of “going to work every morning” for granted. A discussion regarding work injuries is yet again necessary.
Workplace Injuries, the Law, and Placing Blame
The fatal accident at the Amazon job site that left two people dead seems to find its roots in a structural collapse. However, other news outlets described the event as an unspecified industrial accident. Most of us would like to believe that the law is clear: the construction company should pay damages to the victims’ families.
In an ideal world, where the litigator in court would be a famous fictional character like Alan Shore or Bobby Donnell, the contractor would most likely pay for pain and suffering and even punitive damages at the end of the episode. While there is no price on life, not really, a reasonable jury would award a hefty sum for the families.
Nevertheless, the law is anything but straightforward. Bobby Donnell and Alan Shore exist only as figments of T.V. creator David E. Kelley’s imagination. In real practice, a settlement for such a case would involve tons of paperwork, months of discovery, over 200 discrete legal procedures and papers managed by tens of lawyers and paralegals, and probably years spent in court.
What Do You Need to Know about Hazardous Jobs and Work Injuries?
The issue of workplace injuries – and even fatalities as it was with this case – is tricky. For instance, let’s say you are one day in your home, minding your chores. If you trip over the dog that decided the living room floor was its new favorite place for a nap, you slip, and you fall, all you can do is yell at the dog, brush the pain off, and move on with your life. If you slipped badly, a trip to the E.R. is also wise.
At the workplace, if you slip, trip, and fall over an unsecured rug or a P.C. cable, you might have a case against your employer, whom you can sue for negligence. According to workplace injury attorneys, if such an event happened to you and the damage was severe, you should file in an accident report with the company. Next, you should document all the medical diagnoses, treatments, recommendations, and bills. Then, you should hire a slip-and-fall attorney from your state (as work injury laws, like all laws, vary across the nation), and seek a settlement with your employer for lost wages, days off work, medical expenses, and so on.
Everything seems to be just fine until you realize that you signed a workers’ compensation insurance agreement that shields your employer from lawsuits in case you decide to sue for a handful of workplace-related injuries and damages. It is almost certain that the Amazon construction site workers also accepted such policies from their company. Their families, under the worker’s comp claim, can receive benefits.
And yet, workers’ comp, while it covers plenty of workplace injuries and illnesses, does not cover all the dangers many of us face at work every day. If you self-inflicted your injuries, if you violated company policy and got wounds, or if you sustained harm while committing a serious crime, the workers’ comp policy may not work in your benefit.
When to Sue and When to Settle?
According to the National Safety Council, the most common workplace injuries that result in lost workdays lost wages, and – most likely – medical bills are overexertion, contact with objects & equipment, and slip & falls. Construction work is among the top five most “dangerous” occupations that can result in workplace injuries.
So, should the Suffolk victims’ families sue the contractor or Amazon for pain and suffering or punitive damages? Can they sue?
Do you have a case against your employer if you break a leg, suffer chemical intoxications, or need back pain medication because of the work you do?
Overall, the first thing you need is a skilled attorney. Either you slipped on wet stairs in your office building, or an accident caused you harm, a work injury attorney will evaluate your case considering all variables.
For instance, you could file a workers’ comp claim and receive a settlement if you suffered bodily damages after an accident occurred on the job during the policy period. Workers’ comp can also cover occupational diseases and hazards – hearing loss, dermatitis, asthma, asbestosis, benzene-induced cancers, etc.
Some working conditions/environment can cause or aggravate your health and even threaten your life. However, since state laws determine what diseases, accidents, and injuries make you eligible for workers’ comp insurance and settlements, your best bet will be your doctors and your lawyers.
In most slip and fall cases, insurance companies settle with the employee under workers’ comp policies, paying for medical expenses, and covering for wage losses. Nevertheless, there comes a time for settlements and a time for lawsuits. The legal practice knows dozens of mesothelioma lawsuits, wrongful workplace deaths, and utter employer negligence. Again, an attorney will guide you best through this maze and decide whether you have a case.
When it comes to the two dead workers on the Amazon site, time will tell us more about how things will unfold. What you have to do is to stay vigilant every day and do not rely solely on your employer’s word and the workers’ comp policy that you are safe every day on the job.