Eye Injury at Work Claims: How Much Compensation Can You Get?

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.¹

If you’re one of the thousands of employees who suffer 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 coverage of their medical treatment and partial wage replacement – about two-thirds of an injured worker’s pre-injury wages.

Workers’ Comp Settlements for Job-Related Eye Injuries

The amount of compensation you can expect after a work-related eye injury will depend on the severity of your injury, the degree of lost vision, and if your eye injury will have a lasting effect on your ability to return to the workforce.

Here are examples of potential compensation for some common eye-injury scenarios.

Torn or Detached Retina

The retina is a layer of light-sensitive tissue at the back of your eye that triggers nerve impulses that pass via the optic nerve to the brain, where a visual image is formed.

Blunt force trauma to the eye, face, or head can cause the retina to detach or tear away from its position in the eye

A detached retina is a medical emergency. The injured worker should be taken to the nearest hospital emergency room for evaluation and treatment. The longer retinal detachment goes untreated, the higher the risk of permanent vision loss.

Treatment costs for a retina detachments range from $2,000 to $9,000 per eye.

Some detached retinas can be treated with laser surgery, however more traditional surgery may be the best option for trying to save the injured worker’s vision.

Example: Day Care Worker Hit in the Eye 

Beth works at a daycare center making $15 an hour / $600 per week. One morning, Beth was sitting on the playroom floor when an excited toddler wanted her to look at his toy truck. As Beth turned toward the child, he shoved the toy into her face, poking her in the left eye.

Beth immediately experienced sharp pain and blurred vision. Even when the pain let up, Beth continued to have blurry vision and “floaters” in her field of vision. She was driven to the hospital by her supervisor, where an ophthalmologist determined she had a detached retina.

Beth had successful laser surgery to correct the detached retina and returned to work after four weeks.

Medical bills: (hospital, medications, bandages): $1,000

Lost wages benefit ($400/week x 4 weeks): $1,200

Surgery: $5,000

Estimated Workers’ Comp Settlement Value: $7,200

Penetration Injuries to the Eye

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

Workers may be exposed to eye hazards like flying wood chips, slivers, cement chips, staples, nails, and other hazards that can penetrate an eye or damage the cornea. The cornea is the clear, dome-shaped covering over your eye.

Penetrating injuries to the eyeball are extremely painful and can result in a loss of vision, or even the loss of an eye.

Workers can be trained to wear safety glasses, face shields, and other protective eyewear, but industrial accidents do happen. Even if you were hurt while not wearing eye protection, you are still entitled to workers’ compensation coverage for your on-the-job injury.

Treatment costs for penetrating eye injuries can range from a couple hundred dollars for removing a fairly superficial foreign object from the eye, up to $28,000 for a full corneal transplant.

Example: Metal Shard Injures Mechanic

Malcolm is an auto mechanic making $24 an hour /$960 per week. He was trying to loosen a rusted bolt with a wrench, but the bolt wouldn’t budge. In frustration, Malcolm reached for a hammer to strike the wrench, hoping to force the bolt to turn.

Instead of turning the bolt, the hammer strike caused a shard of metal to break off the wrench, striking Malcolm in his right eye. Malcolm was in immediate, terrible pain.

He was taken to the hospital where an ophthalmologist was able to determine that the small shard in Malcolm’s cornea could be removed without surgery. Malcolm felt much better by the next morning, and was able to return to work in three weeks.

Medical bills (hospital, doctors, CT scan): $3,500

Lost wages benefit ($640/week x 3 weeks): $1,920

Estimated Workers’ Comp Settlement Value: $5,420

Thermal or Chemical Burns to the Eye

Ocular burns, meaning burns to the eye can be chemical or thermal. Chemical burns in the workplace (most common) may be caused by splashed or sprayed caustic substances like bleach, ammonia, fertilizers, acids, and more. Thermal burns are from hot substances that come in contact with the eye, like cooking oil, electric arcs, and welder flash burns.

Ocular burns are an emergency. If chemicals are splashed into the eye, immediately flush the eye with clean, lukewarm water for at least twenty minutes, or until the ambulance arrives. Pain is not an indicator of severity. Superficial burns may hurt worse than deep-damaging wounds that have burned away the nerves.

Recovery time for burns to the eye can range from a week to several months, depending on the depth and severity of the burns.

Medical expenses for chemical or thermal burns can range from $1,000 for emergency care and a follow-up visit, to more than $20,000 for surgical repair of the cornea.

If the eye cannot be saved, the cost can range from $8,000 to $15,000 for removal of the eye and a prosthetic implant.

Example: Housekeeper Splashed with Cleaning Solution 

Mary works in the housekeeping department of a large hotel, where she makes $12 an hour /$480 per week. While handling a jug of toilet bowl cleaner, Mary lost her grip on the container and it dropped, hitting the countertop and splashing caustic cleaner into her face and eyes.

A nearby coworker heard Mary scream. Rushing into the bathroom and seeing what happened, the coworker turned on the shower and made Mary lean over so the shower water could irrigate her face and eyes. Help was summoned and Mary was transported to the hospital.

The coworkers’ quick action saved Mary from permanent eye damage. Mary was able to return to work four weeks later, with her vision fully restored.

Medical bills (hospital, doctors, medications): $1,500

Lost wages benefit ($320/week x 4 weeks): $1,280

Estimated Workers’ Comp Settlement Value: $2,780

Lump-Sum Workers’ Comp Awards for Vision Loss

Most states use a “loss rating schedule” to calculate a lump-sum award to workers who have lost the use of a body part or function because of a workplace accident.

The permanent loss of your eye or the loss of your vision counts as a “specific loss.” To address specific loss claims, each state has their own loss rating schedule.

You can get your state’s loss schedule from your State Worker’s Compensation Office.

Insurance companies use the schedule to determine pre-set, lump-sum payments for workers whose body parts have been amputated, or otherwise made unusable, as a result of their injury.

Lump-sum payments can vary, even for the loss of the same body part. In many states, the lump sum is a multiple of your weekly wage benefit, multiplied by your impairment rating.

Example: Scheduled Loss Award for Eye Injury

Charlie was making $22 an hour/$880 per week installing appliances into new homes for a local builder. He was working in the kitchen of a home under construction when he was hit in the eye by a nail from a pneumatic nail gun. The nail came through the unfinished wall from the next room where another worker was hanging drywall.

Charlie lost his eye from the accident. His medical impairment rating is 100% because he lost all use of the eye. His weekly workers’ compensation wage benefit is $587.

In the state where Charley works, the loss of an eye qualifies for a lump sum award equal to 160 benefit weeks multiplied by the impairment rating.

Wage-loss: 160 x $587 = $93,920

Loss-of-use: $93,920 x 100% = $93,920

Charlie is entitled to a lump sum of $93,920 for the loss of his eye.

The specific loss payment is separate from workers’ compensation medical benefits.

Eligibility for Workers’ Compensation

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.

Workers ineligible for workers’ comp include:

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

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

The most common causes of workplace eye injuries are:

  • Foreign object striking or scraping the eye (from small particles like sawdust to blunt force trauma)
  • Penetration into the eye (glass shards, nails, slivers of wood or metal)
  • Chemical or thermal burns (such as a caustic chemical splashed into the eye)

Occupational eye problems can arise from computer usage. Office computers provide a backlight that 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.

Filing Your Worker’s Comp Claim

Seek immediate medical attention after an on-the-job eye injury.

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’s 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.

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 you are left with a visual impairment. Vision loss falls in the workers’ comp category of 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 eye 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

Serious 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. Most workers’ compensation lawyers offer free consultations. It costs nothing to find out what a skilled personal 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 >>