Eye Injury at Work? Here’s How to File a Claim and Get Compensation

Get compensation for an eye injury at work that left you with temporary or permanent vision loss. Find out your options in addition to workers’ comp.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), more than 2,000 workers suffer eye injuries each day serious enough to require medical treatment.

More than one out of each ten workers with eye injuries will lose days from work. ¹

If you’re one of the hundreds of employees who have suffered an eye injury at work, you’ll be worried about your vision, your job, and your financial future.

Fortunately, most American workers are covered by their employer’s workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ comp benefits provide eligible workers with medical treatment and rehabilitation, and compensation to replace a portion of the worker’s lost wages.

How Eye Injuries Happen at Work

Anyone can suffer a freak accident at work, but some work environments are more hazardous than others when it comes to vision injuries.

Carpenters, electricians, welders, assembly line workers, mechanics, and computer data personnel consistently have the highest reported rates of on-the-job eye injuries.

Common Causes of Workplace Eye Injuries

Invasion of Foreign Bodies: Getting something in your eye hurts, and even tiny particles can cause serious damage. Projected metal flakes, splintered wood, shards of glass, and other tiny particulates can enter an eye and cause irritation or scratch the cornea.

Commercial staples, nails, wires, cutting instruments, saws, blades, and other hazardous tools can penetrate an eye or damage the cornea.

Blunt force trauma: Being hit hard in the eye area by a flying object (or a fist) can cause serious damage even when the eye isn’t cut, scratched or penetrated.  A strong blow to the eye can cause bleeding inside the eye, retinal detachments, and injuries to the bones around the eye.

Chemicals: Splashed chemicals can cause serious burns and blindness. In some cases, the damage can be irreversible.

Allergic Conjunctivitis: Also called “pink-eye,” workers may be exposed to spices, fruits, vegetables and other substances in the workplace that trigger an allergic reaction. Seasonal allergies to pollen are common non-work causes of allergic conjunctivitis.

Overexposure to ultraviolet rays: Lasers, sunlamps, fluorescent lights, and natural sunlight can produce extremely bright light, often many times brighter than is necessary for accurate vision. Overexposure can lead to a variety of eye diseases and disorders such as cancer of the eye and cataracts.

Computer usage: Office computers provide a backlight which can be two to five times brighter than the eye needs to function properly. Extended exposure to computer screens may cause migraine headaches, nausea, fatigue, and dizziness.

Workers’ Compensation for an Eye Injury

Most workers with eye injuries will be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. If you work for a very small company, your employer may not be legally obligated to carry workers’ comp insurance.

If you’ve suffered a serious eye injury at work, contact an experienced personal injury attorney right away to discuss your case.

Eligibility for Workers’ Comp

Each state has its own set of rules for workers’ compensation eligibility. Depending on the state, some workers may not be eligible for workers’ compensation:

  • Domestic workers, like babysitters or housekeepers
  • Independent contractors
  • Agricultural or seasonal workers
  • Undocumented workers

Federal employees are covered under a separate program from the state-mandated workers’ comp insurance required for non-government companies.

Filing Your Worker’s Comp Claim

To receive workers’ comp benefits, you must follow administrative guidelines.

Report your eye injury to your employer as soon as possible. Your employer should provide you with the workers’ compensation claim form and instructions for filing your claim.

Simply telling your employer is not enough. You must file a workers’ comp claim before the deadline for your state.

If your injury requires further treatment, you’ll probably have to select a doctor from the insurance company list of approved medical providers. These are physicians employed by the insurance company specifically to treat injured workers. The physician you choose is your primary treating physician.

Serious Eye Injuries Require a Specialist

Your primary physician is normally the first and last doctor who treats you. In most cases, an eye injury requires the medical expertise of an ophthalmologist.

An Ophthalmologist is a medical doctor specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of injuries, diseases, and disorders of the eye. Ophthalmologists are also qualified to perform delicate eye surgery.

If the approved list of physicians doesn’t include an ophthalmologist, ask the workers’ comp representative if you can choose one independently.

Recovery periods for eye injuries at work vary according to the type and severity of the damage. You may be able to return to work after a couple of days, weeks, or even longer.

When your treatment is finished, your eye doctor will determine whether your eye injury is fully healed, or whether your injury and vision loss resulted in a permanent partial disability or permanent total disability.

Definition of Workers’ Comp Disability Categories

  • Temporary Total Disability completely prevents you from working for a limited amount of time.
  • Temporary Partial Disability prevents you from doing some, but not all, of your job duties for a limited amount of time.
  • Permanent Total Disability prevents you from ever returning to work, whether for your current employer or another employer.
  • Permanent Partial Disability is a permanent injury that partially impairs your ability to work.

In a case of a permanent disability, you’re entitled to a cash settlement in addition to your other workers’ compensation benefits.

Compensation in Addition to Workers’ Comp

Federal, state, and local laws require employers to provide protective eye gear to workers whose job duties include exposure to hazardous materials. Failure to comply with these laws subjects an employer to substantial fines and penalties.

Deliberate violations of safety laws can qualify as gross negligence by the employer. In cases of gross negligence, an injured worker can file a private lawsuit against the employer outside of the workers’ comp system.

Unlike the limitations of the workers’ comp system, private lawsuits can include full payment of medical bills, replacement services, out-of-pocket expenses, all lost wages, and a separate amount for pain and suffering. In severe cases, the court can also award punitive damages.

You and your attorney can also file a third-party lawsuit against any individual or business, aside from your employer, whose negligence contributed to your injury. For example, you could pursue the manufacturer of defective machinery or tools involved which caused your eye injury.

Fighting the Insurance Company

Eye injuries can be life-changing, leaving you to cope with vision loss and fears about the future.

Don’t expect the workers’ comp insurance company to look out for your best interest or your family’s financial security.

You have too much to lose by fighting the insurance company on your own. It costs nothing to find out what a skilled workplace injury attorney can do for you.

Eye Injury at Work Questions & Answers

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>