Your employer and the equipment manufacturer may be liable for workplace injuries caused by faulty equipment. Here’s how to seek compensation in addition to workers’ comp.
The United States Department of Labor reports over 2.8 million work-related injuries and fatalities annually.¹
Workers have a right to be safe in the workplace, and employers have a legal duty to do everything reasonably possible to keep their employees free from injury.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal agency that enforces workplace safety regulations. OSHA’s safety rules and regulations also cover machinery and equipment.²
While most employers follow regulations and recommended guidelines for inspecting and maintaining equipment, there are some who overlook maintenance schedules and disregard worker concerns. Improper maintenance and repair can lead to malfunctions that endanger workers, as can defective machinery.
When faulty equipment causes serious injuries, worker’s compensation may not be enough to cover your losses. You could be eligible to sue your employer or file a lawsuit against a negligent third party. Here’s what you need to know.
Liability for Faulty Equipment: Employer or Manufacturer
After a workplace machinery or equipment accident, seriously injured workers may be entitled to seek compensation from their employer, the manufacturer, other third parties, and workers’ comp.
Depending on the circumstances of your case, you might be able to pursue multiple options at the same time. This can include filing a workers’ comp claim while your lawsuit is pending against the manufacturer or another at-fault party.
Filing a Lawsuit Against Your Employer
Injured workers can file a lawsuit against their employer, but justifying a lawsuit can be difficult. You will have to prove that your employer played a significant part in causing the faulty equipment accident.
To win a lawsuit against your employer, you and your attorney must prove “gross negligence” or a “wanton disregard for safety.” In other words, you’ll have to prove your employer did something outrageously wrong or failed to act responsibly, even though the employer knew that employees could be injured.
This is a very heavy burden of proof, but a skilled injury attorney can justify a personal injury claim for your work injuries.
Many workplace injury lawsuits are based on OSHA violations, where the employer violated regulations, with full knowledge that the violations created unsafe conditions for workers.
Example: Machine Failure from Missed Maintenance
Alex worked in a factory for a company that mass-produced metal fan blades. Alex’s duties were to line the metal up and feed it into the cutting machine to stamp out the blades.
The cutting machine was a massive piece of equipment, weighing almost two thousand pounds. Alex’s employer had been cited by OSHA more than once for missing scheduled maintenance for the cutting machine.
One day, Alex was severely injured when the machine’s gears locked up, causing large metal shards to shoot out of the machine. An inspection determined that the gears locked up because they hadn’t been regularly lubricated.
Alex lost several fingers and the vision in his right eye. He filed for workers’ comp and contacted a personal injury attorney.
Through his attorney, Alex filed a lawsuit against his employer, alleging the employer’s deliberate failure to properly maintain the cutting machine proved gross negligence and a wanton disregard for his safety. His employer’s history of multiple citations for OSHA violations was compelling evidence.
Alex won his lawsuit, recovering all his medical costs, all his lost wages, future earnings, and a large amount for pain and suffering. In addition, because the employer’s disregard for employee safety was so egregious, Alex was awarded a large amount for punitive damages.
Third-Party Faulty Equipment Lawsuits (Manufacturer and Other Defects)
If you’ve been injured on the job by faulty machinery or equipment, you may be entitled to file a lawsuit against an at-fault third party. A “third-party” is another person or business, besides your employer, who contributed to the circumstances that caused your injury.
Workplace injuries caused by equipment that broke down because it was made wrong, or had defective parts, can give you grounds for a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of the equipment or its components.
Apart from the manufacturer, you can sue third parties connected to faulty equipment such as outside vendors responsible for maintenance, the company that incorrectly installed equipment, or a property owner (not your employer) who is responsible for machinery at your job site.
The legal burden for proving a defective product claim is not as high as the burden in an employer negligence claim. You only need to prove the machinery or equipment was defective, and the defect was the direct cause of your injuries.
Defective product lawsuits often require testimony from technical experts. In many defective product cases, it comes down to a battle of the experts.
Example: Defective Freezer Lock Causes Worker’s Injuries
Jade worked at a large meatpacking plant. Her duties included moving inventory in and out of a large walk-in freezer. The average freezer temperature was just below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
Near the end of a workday, Jade went into the freezer to take a final inventory count. As she tried to leave, the door lock jammed. Although the freezer door was never supposed to lock from inside, this day it did. No one noticed that Jade didn’t come out of the freezer, and all her co-workers went home.
Jade was locked in the freezer overnight. By the time another worker opened the freezer door the next morning, Jade was suffering from hypothermia and frostbite to her nose, ears, hands, and feet.
Jade filed for workers’ compensation benefits. She also retained a personal injury attorney and filed a lawsuit against the company that made the freezer lock.
Jade’s lawsuit alleged the freezer door’s locking mechanism was defective and caused her injuries.
Jade’s attorney hired a locksmith with expertise in locks used in subfreezing temperatures. At trial, the expert gave his opinion and photographic proof that the locking mechanism was defective.
The jury ruled in Jade’s favor and awarded her reimbursement for medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, all her lost wages, and a substantial amount for her pain and suffering.
Defective machinery lawsuits can drag on for years before settling. If you win against a corporate manufacturer at trial, their legal team may file an appeal to try to get your verdict overturned.
Suing Your Employer vs. Filing Workers’ Compensation
Filing a worker’s comp claim is the easiest and fastest route to injury compensation after any common on-the-job injury.
Workers’ compensation is a state-mandated no-fault system that provides benefits almost immediately, even if the employee made an error that caused their injury. The flipside of that protection is that the employer is generally protected from lawsuits by injured employees unless the employer was grossly negligent.
State and federal laws require most businesses to provide workers’ compensation insurance for their employees. In most cases, a worker injured while using company equipment is eligible for workers’ comp benefits.
Workers’ comp covers related medical and therapy bills, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and two-thirds of wages lost during treatment and recovery. Disabled workers are often paid a lump-sum settlement in addition to the regular wage replacement benefit.
Employees ineligible for worker’s comp include:
- Freelance workers or independent contractors
- Domestic workers, such as housekeepers and babysitters
- Agricultural workers
- Undocumented workers
- Temp or agency workers
If your job status makes you ineligible for a workers’ compensation claim, you still have the right to pursue compensation for workplace accidents. You may be able to sue your employer for damages, as well as the manufacturer of the defective equipment.
The Downside of Lawsuits vs. Workers’ Compensation
Workers’ comp benefits are limited. Injured workers can end up with significantly higher compensation by filing a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault employer and/or other parties. However, in a lawsuit, the injured worker bears the burden of proving fault. Workers’ comp is no-fault. You can get benefits no matter who contributed to your injuries.
Injury lawsuits involving faulty equipment can be expensive and go on for years – and you might not win. Worker’s comp covers you from the date of injury, and wage benefits begin within weeks.
Whether you sue your employer, the equipment manufacturer, or another third party for your injuries, you can expect the party you sue to shift some or all of the blame for your injuries to you. In some states, you could end up with nothing, even if you’re only slightly to blame for the circumstances leading to your injury.
Don’t Miss Workers’ Comp Deadlines
In many states, accepting workers’ compensation benefits removes any right you have to sue your employer for your injuries. But don’t take too long to decide what you’re going to do. Every state has its deadline for filing workers’ comp. Miss the deadline, and you’ve lost the right to benefits.
When you’re injured by machinery or equipment in your workplace, seek medical treatment right away and report the injury to your employer as soon as possible. If you’re transported for emergency care, you can report your injury after the hospital discharges you.
After reporting your injury, your employer should provide you with the forms and instructions for filing your worker’s comp claim. It’s not enough just to tell your boss.
Contact your State Workers’ Compensation Office for more information about your local rules and deadlines.
Faulty Equipment Injuries Can Be Disabling
You are required to use physicians approved by the workers’ comp insurance company for your injury treatments. In some states, you’re allowed to change doctors after a certain period.
Your doctor will determine if you can return to your previous job, or if you are temporarily or permanently disabled.
If your injury is temporarily disabling, your physician won’t clear you to return to your previous job until you’ve fully recovered, or may allow you to return to “light duty” or restricted work duties. If your injury is permanently disabling, you won’t be able to return to your previous job, or may not be able to return to work in any capacity.
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.
Make sure you understand your disability rating, and how the physician calculated the severity of your injuries. Remember that doctors hired by the insurance company are probably not looking out for your best interest.
Common Types of Faulty Equipment and Injuries
Any power-driven or electronic work equipment that becomes dangerous to use is considered faulty equipment.
Faulty equipment can be large or small:
- Tools: like meat slicers, power saws, and pneumatic nail guns
- Work vehicles: like forklifts and other heavy machinery
- Industrial machines: like conveyor belts, power presses, manufacturing equipment
Unsafe or malfunctioning work equipment can lead to serious worker injuries:
- Burns (thermal, electrical or chemical)
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Eye injuries
- Degloving injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
Faulty equipment accidents result in life-changing injuries to workers in every industry, from mom-and-pop grocers to huge manufacturing plants.
Tools and machines can become dangerous due to:
- Improper maintenance
- Lack of worker training
- Incorrect instruction manuals
- Broken, missing, or old parts
- Manufacturing or design defects
Attorneys Can Maximize Your Compensation
You won’t need to hire an attorney for short-term workers’ compensation benefits. Claims for minor injuries and a few weeks of lost wages aren’t complicated.
Severe, potentially disabling workplace injuries from faulty equipment are another story. Severe injuries are high-dollar workers’ comp claims. You might work for the best company on the planet, but your employer’s workers’ comp insurance company is not on your side.
To the insurance company, you represent a big hit to their bottom line. From the start, they’ll be looking for ways to limit or terminate your claim. Insurance companies are notorious for offering less money to disabled workers who aren’t represented by an attorney.
While you have the right to file a lawsuit on your own, if you’re considering suing your employer, the manufacturer, or another third party, you’ll need an experienced personal injury lawyer. Only a skilled attorney can stand up to the army of corporate lawyers the other side will bring against you.
If you or a loved one have been seriously injured on the job by faulty equipment, don’t settle for less than the full compensation you deserve. It costs nothing to find out the true value of your claim, and what a good personal injury attorney can do for you.
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