Wrongful Death in the Workplace

Nov 4, 2020 | Work Accidents, Wrongful Death

From huge energy production facilities to small commercial fisheries, many Houstonians work in very dangerous environments. Even office workers are not immune from such hazards. A fall down a flight of stairs could have the same consequences as a fall from construction scaffolding.

Many years ago, factory owners began using the term industrial accidents to shift focus away from their dangerous workplaces and onto supposedly negligent workers. Howe’ver, despite the employer’s fault level, substantial compensation is usually available in these situations.

Money might be available, but insurance companies do not simply give it away. In fact, insurance company lawyers scour for legal loopholes which enable them to reduce or deny compensation. Williams Hart will work just as hard for you to ensure you are fairly compensated for the loss of a loved one.

Types of Fatal Workplace Accidents

In terms of trauma injuries, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration states that the Fatal Four are responsible for most fatal workplace accidents:

  • Falls: Especially if the victim has a pre-existing condition, as outlined below, a fall from a height or a slip-and-fall could be fatal. Sometimes these victims linger for a few minutes and sometimes they linger a few months or even longer.
  • Struck By: Falling hand tools and other events are especially common at busy construction sites. Small objects like hammers and other tools quickly gain force as they plummet to the ground.
  • Caught Between: Lifts and elevators are very convenient and very unforgiving. Frequently, a defective sensor or other malfunction contributes to these injuries. More on that below.
  • Electrocutions: Most non-electricians cannot tell the difference between live wires and dead ones. So, if they are electrocuted, it is clearly not their fault.

Fatal occupational diseases, such as toxic exposure, are quite common as well. Asbestos exposure is a good example. If the structure was built before 1980, it almost certainly contains asbestos. So, office workers and renovation/demolition workers are especially at risk for exposure. One microscopic asbestos fiber, which can seep directly through the skin, could cause mesothelioma, asbestosis, or another fatal illness.

The Eggshell Skull Rule

Both trauma injuries and occupational diseases disproportionately affect people with pre-existing conditions. These victims are usually entitled to maximum compensation, because of the eggshell skull rule.

In general, no one should ever benefit from, or ever take advantage of, another person’s weakness. That is the essence of the eggshell skull rule.

Assume Fred has a bad knee because of an old football injury that never quite healed. He falls while he is at work at the Slate Rock and Gravel Company. Since his bad knee causes a hard fall, his resulting head injury is much more serious than it would have been otherwise. If the head injury kills Fred, Mr. Slate is fully responsible for the injury. He cannot use Fred’s weakness against him.

The Delayed Discovery Rule

A similar doctrine also applies in these situations, mostly regarding occupational diseases. According to this rule, victims need not file workers’ compensation or other legal claims until:

They know the full extent of their injuries, and

They connect those injuries with their workplace environments.

Assume that, after several years at Spacely’s Space Sprockets, George begins experiencing breathing problems. When he finally goes to the doctor, he discovers that the substandard ventilation system in Mr. Spacely’s offices caused his breathing problems. If George does not survive, Mr. Spacely is still responsible for the injury. Once again, he cannot use the creeping nature of George’s illness against him.

Your Legal Options

Generally, workers’ compensation protects injured victims like George and Fred. This no-fault insurance provides compensation for medical bills related to the decedent’s final injury or illness. Additionally, wrongful death survivors usually receive a lump sum payment to compensate the family for future lost wages.

State workers’ compensation programs only apply on land. If the wrongful death occurred at sea, perhaps on an offshore oil rig, a similar federal system, such as the Jones Act or the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, usually apply.

Additionally, in many cases, wrongful death survivors can file civil claims and obtain additional compensation. These situations include nonsubscriber (uninsured) employers or fatal accidents due to a defective product. The additional compensation usually includes money for pain and suffering and other noneconomic losses.

If a loved one was the victim of a fatal workplace accident, you have legal options. For a 100% FREE confidential consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Houston, contact Williams Hart today.

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