The good news for workers is that the overall fatality rate for work injuries has been declining over the last decade. However, work injuries and fatalities still happen far too frequently. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are a number of areas where work injuries are most likely to occur. Likewise, there might be certain industries that have higher rates of injury and fatalities than others. The types of work injuries and work fatalities most common to work environments are much like those that might occur in other settings. The following numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics involve fatalities. However, the patterns for serious personal injury would be expected to follow similar trends.
Workers’ Compensation v. Personal Injury Claims
It should be noted that Workers’ Comp claims are very different than personal injury claims. Claims under the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Act are very limited. In cases of serious personal injury or wrongful death, Workers’ Compensation benefits will not come close to fully compensating a worker or his or her family. Personal injury claims are very different. Under the Workers’ Compensation exclusive remedy provisions, these too are strictly limited. In fact, an employee cannot sue a employer in a personal injury lawsuit except in very limited situations. These exceptions to exclusive remedy provisions will be discussed below. If the worker is able to avoid the exclusive remedy provisions, there is a much better chance of full and fair compensation.
Transportation/Motor Vehicle Related Accidents
Transportation accidents accounted for a full 40% of fatal work accidents (1789 of the total 4383 fatalities). Most of these (around 58%) were road or highway incidents such as car or trucking accidents. In addition to road and highway incidents, there were many non-roadway accidents involving heavy equipment and farming equipment. Many of the fatalities (around 16%) included pedestrians who were struck by vehicles or equipment. Surprisingly, only about 20% of these pedestrian fatalities occurred in work zones.
It might come as a surprise that workplace violence is the second leading cause of work related fatalities. Workplace related violence accounted for about 16% of work related fatalities. These included both homicide and suicide. All work related injuries and wrongful deaths pose challenges for personal injury lawsuits, which will be addressed below. These types of claims create an additional layer of challenges related to duty and foreseeability.
Slip and Fall Accidents
Slip and fall accidents accounted for 668 fatalities, or about 15% of the total. Falls involving fatalities typically included falls to a lower level. These falls represented 81% of the total fatalities. Surprisingly, among these, 25% involved falls of 10 feet or less. Like all work related injuries, the challenge is to get past Workers’ Comp exclusive remedy provisions by identifying a third party other than the employer who is at least partly responsible for the accident. In slip and fall work injuries, it is not uncommon at all that the fall was the result of third party negligence.
Contact with Objects or Equipment
Fatalities caused by contact with objects or equipment accounted for 509 work related deaths, at 11.5% of the total. These fatalities resulted primarily from falling objects. These accounted for about 45% of the total deaths in this area. Other fatalities were caused by contact with vehicles or mobile equipment not in normal operation. Many of these types of accidents would involve third parties. Such as a sub-contractor dropping tools, material or negligently operating equipment and vehicles.
Obstacles to Work Related Claims and Ways Around Them
There are a number of challenges facing employees injured or killed in a work accident. As mentioned several times above, the most onerous is the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Act’s exclusive remedy provision which prevents an employee from suing the employer in a personal injury lawsuit. However, there are a number of possible routes around these restrictions. First, if a third party unrelated to the employer caused the accident, that person or company is not protected by the Workers’ Comp restrictions. Second, if the employer is not in compliance with the Workers’ Compensation Insurance requirements, they are not protected. This would be made evident upon the filing of a Workers’ Compensation Claim. Finally, and most rare, an employer is not protected for wanton or reckless conduct under the Delgado doctrine. This is an extremely limited exception and rarely applies since even gross negligence is not enough under Delgado.
Seek Legal Guidance – These Claims Can be Complex
Most all personal injury or wrongful death claims come with challenges. Work related injuries in particular are challenging due to the Workers’ Compensation Act’s exclusive remedy provision. It is very important to contact an experienced personal injury attorney right away to determine if there are ways around these restrictions and how best to proceed to ensure fair and complete compensation. Sadly, in cases of serious personal injury or wrongful death, Workers’ Compensation benefits are woefully lacking and do not come close to full compensation for a worker’s injuries and damages. Getting around the Workers’ Compensation Act is the only way to achieve full compensation in these cases.