Workplace violence is a possible danger, no matter where you work. Here’s how to pursue financial compensation if you’re the victim of an assault at work.
While news reports give more attention to mass shooting incidents, there are hundreds of violent assaults in the workplace every day.
More than two million American workers are victims of workplace violence every year.¹
Assaults on workers occur on company premises, at off-site job locations, while making deliveries, and during other business-related activities.
When you’ve been violently injured on the job, you have a right to expect compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and more.
Workers’ Comp for Assault Injuries
The National Institute for Occupation Safety and Health (NIOSH) tracks four categories of workplace violence:
- Criminal intent
- Customer or client
- Personal relationships
The fourth category of workplace violence, personal relationships, almost always targets women.²
Workplace violence usually involves assaultive behavior. Injuries from a violent assault can range from scrapes and bruises to broken bones, serious head injuries, and even death.
Injured workers are entitled to workers’ compensation coverage. Workers’ comp benefits cover payment of medical and therapy bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and about two-thirds of wages lost during treatment and recovery.
Eligibility for Worker’s Compensation
The assault that caused your injuries must occur while you are “within the scope of your employment.” In other words, you were attacked while on the job.
If you were performing duties at the request or on behalf of your employer when the assault occurred, you could still be covered even if you were off-the-clock.
Your employer might be terrific, but your employer’s insurance company only sees opportunities to save money and will jump at the chance to deny your claim.
For example, workers’ comp usually doesn’t cover employees who are injured while commuting “door-to-door” to and from work.
Example: Parking lot assault
If you arrive at work, park your car, and are physically assaulted while walking to the employee’s entrance of the business, workers’ comp might not cover you.
Then again, you might be covered if your employer was responsible for parking lot security.
If your workers’ comp claim has been denied after an assault at work, don’t take no for an answer. Contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney immediately.
The Workers’ Comp Claim Process
Follow these critical steps after an assault at work:
- Get Medical Care: Get immediate medical attention for your injuries. If you aren’t taken directly to the hospital or urgent care, get a medical evaluation as soon as possible. Don’t wait a few days to see if you’ll feel better later. Make sure the medical provider knows you were attacked while on the job.
- Call the Police: Notify the police, if they weren’t already called to the scene of the attack.
- Notify Your Employer: As soon as you’re able, tell your employer you were injured on the job. We’ve made it easy with this sample Workplace Injury Notification Letter.
- File Your Workers’ Comp Claim: Telling your employer isn’t enough. You have to file your worker’s comp claim before your state’s deadline. Your employer should give you a claim form and instructions.
Contact your local State Workers’ Compensation Office for more information about your state’s rules and deadlines.
When You Can Sue Your Employer
In most cases, the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance covers on-the-job injuries. Under certain conditions, an injured employee can claim workers’ comp benefits and file a lawsuit against their employer to seek additional compensation.
Employers have a legal duty of care to protect their employees from undue harm and physical injury in the workplace.
Their duty includes taking reasonable actions to keep people with a known history of aggressive behavior off the premises and away from workers.
Employer protective actions can include:
- Running criminal background checks
- Administering drug tests
- Checking references
- Disciplining or firing workers who display aggressive behavior
When your employer doesn’t take reasonable actions to protect you from workplace violence, and you are injured, you may have the right to file a third-party lawsuit.
Your attorney will have to prove your employer failed to protect you, and the failure constituted gross negligence or a malicious disregard for your safety.
Example: Employer Kept a Violent Worker
Gerry was a high school student who made good grades and was never in trouble. To save money for college, he worked part-time at a fast food restaurant owned by Mr. Smith.
After another employee quit and walked off the job, Mr. Smith needed to fill the position immediately, so he hired Sam without doing a background check.
A couple of employees knew Sam had a criminal record with several convictions for violent crimes. They met with with Mr. Smith and told him that they feared for their safety if Sam was hired. Mr. Smith ignored their concerns.
Within a week, several coworkers saw Sam threatening to hurt Gerry. Gerry told Mr. Smith about the threats and that he feared for his safety., but Mr. Smith took no action.
Three days later while Gerry was emptying the trash, Sam attacked and severely beat him. Gerry sustained a concussion, a fractured collarbone, and a broken nose.
After seeking legal advice, his parents helped Gerry file a workers’ compensation claim. Their attorney also filed a lawsuit on Gerry’s behalf, alleging that “but for” Mr. Smith’s gross negligence and wanton disregard for Gerry’s safety, he would not have been seriously injured.
Mr. Smith’s attorneys argued that Smith was negligent, but not enough to justify a lawsuit. They asked the court to dismiss Gerry’s lawsuit, and limit Gerry to his worker’s compensation benefits.
The court ruled that Mr. Smith’s actions constituted a basic failure to keep his premises safe for Gerry and his coworkers.
The court awarded Gerry $100,000 for his medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, all his lost wages, and a substantial amount for his pain and suffering. The court also awarded Gerry’s attorneys’ fees.
When the Attacker Has to Pay
One of the first things to do after a workplace assault is to contact the police and file a criminal complaint against your attacker. In most cases of assault at work, there are enough witnesses (coworkers or customers) to give the police probable cause to arrest the attacker.
Make clear to the police your attack was unprovoked. An argument isn’t usually considered enough provocation; however, if you made threats of imminent injury or death, you may not be able to claim you were unlawfully attacked. In that case, your attacker could say he was defending himself.
A few days after the assault, you or your attorney should ask for a copy of the police report. After a week or so, contact your local district attorney’s office and speak with the prosecutor assigned to your case. Let the prosecutor know you have medical bills and out-of-pocket expenses and need financial help to pay them.
The court may order your attacker to pay “restitution.” If your attacker receives probation, the prosecutor can ask the court to order him to pay for your damages as a condition of his probation. That amount isn’t paid directly to you, but it may come through some other court-approved administrator.
If the court agrees and your attacker defaults on a payment, he could be arrested for violating the terms of his probation.
Crime Victim Compensation
Most areas have a state-managed fund to provide financial help for victims of violent crimes and their families.
The benefits of crime victim compensation programs typically pay for:
- Medical and dental bills
- Mental health services
- Funeral or burial expenses
- Lost wages or support
Violent crime victims with physical injuries should always be eligible for assistance through crime victim funds. Victims who were traumatized but not physically injured may not be covered in every state.
The eligibility requirements will vary from state to state, as will the maximum amount of funds available.
To find help in your state visit the National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards.
Maximizing Your Injury Compensation
If you expect a full recovery from minor injuries with only a few days or weeks missed from work, you can probably handle your workers’ compensation claim on your own.
Serious, or potentially disabling workplace injuries are a different story. Severe injuries caused by workplace violence can be complicated and expensive.
Insurance companies don’t like expensive claims and are more interested in their profit margin than what’s best for you. Most disabled workers received higher compensation with the help of a good worker’s comp attorney.
Third-party claims against employers almost always require legal representation. Your employer has the insurance company and their attorneys working against you. You’ll need an experienced personal injury attorney to stand up to the corporate bullies and win the compensation you’re entitled to.
If you’re the victim of an assault at work, don’t sign away your rights to full compensation. You have too much to lose. It costs nothing to find out what an experienced personal injury attorney can do for you.
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