In April of 2010, high-pressure gas rose from an offshore oil well into the drilling rig on the Deepwater Horizon oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico, 40 miles off the Louisiana coast. The resulting explosion killed 11 oil workers and seriously injured 17 others. As fire engulfed the platform, 94 oil workers were rescued by helicopter.
None of those workers went to Deepwater Horizon believing they were at risk of dying. But working in the oil industry can be dangerous—and it’s far from the only dangerous job in America. The construction trades, manufacturing and many other occupations can pose serious dangers.
The federal government has made workplace safety rules intended to reduce injuries and deaths, and states, including Texas, have systems in place to compensate people who are injured at work. If you’ve been injured or sickened by something that happened at your job, it pays to understand those systems and your legal rights.
Types of Workplace Injury
Accidents at work injure thousands of Americans every year, often very seriously. Depending on the job, workers can be seriously injured by contact with heavy machinery, power tools, falls from a height, falling objects or cave-ins or vehicle crashes. Employees who work near toxic substances can also develop serious illnesses from repeated exposure over time, or from sudden, intense exposure to something dangerous. These can cause disabling, sometimes permanent injuries such as:
- Broken bones
- Head injuries
- Mangled limbs
- Hearing loss
- Sudden illness from toxic exposure
- Cancer from long-term toxic exposure
Construction workers are especially vulnerable to workplace injuries, in part because they frequently work with heavy machinery or at heights. Here in Texas, we also have an active oil industry that can put workers at risk if employers aren’t careful. Like the Deepwater Horizon workers, oil workers risk fires and explosions, sometimes at sea where there are few places to escape. They’re also vulnerable to vehicle crashes and injuries from moving around heavy objects or equipment.
An injury on the job poses a dilemma: You can’t go back to work while you’re recovering, but you also need to earn money. Without a steady paycheck, it’s hard to make ends meet, let alone pay the expensive medical bills caused by the injury. For an ordinary working family, it can be too much.
Your Workers’ Compensation Rights
That’s one reason that Texas (like every other state) has a workers’ compensation program. Claiming workers’ compensation gives you money to pay your medical costs and replace part of your wages while you can’t work. You can claim these benefits regardless of whose fault the accident was. In exchange, you may not sue your employer even if it did cause the accident.
The workers’ compensation system was intended to make it easier for injured workers to get the care they need and support themselves, without requiring a long, expensive lawsuit. For some workers, it does work that way. However, workers’ compensation payments are provided by insurance companies, and insurance companies make more money if they don’t pay claims. If they do pay claims, the employer may also see its insurance premiums go up.
Because of this, some people who try to claim workers’ compensation find themselves blocked at every turn. The insurance company may deny the claim for reasons that don’t make sense, or your employer may discourage you from making the claim.
If something like this has happened to you after an injury on the job, a Texas workplace injury lawyer can help. An experienced workers’ compensation lawyer can explain your rights and deal with the insurance company for you, making sure you get what you’re legally entitled to.
Your Right to Sue
Usually, claiming workers’ compensation means you cannot sue your employer for causing your injuries. But there are several situations where you might be able to sue the employer instead of or in addition to receiving workers’ compensation. This has advantages. While lawsuits take a longer time and are less certain than workers’ compensation, they almost always bring more money. In a lawsuit, you may be able to claim money that is not available through workers’ compensation, such as full replacement wages or compensation for pain and suffering.
One reason you might be able to sue is if your employer doesn’t carry workers’ compensation insurance. This is optional in Texas, which means some employers may not offer it. In addition, workers on mobile oil platforms, boats and ships are, by law, simply not eligible for workers’ compensation. Instead, those workers are expressly permitted to sue their employers under a federal law called the Jones Act. If such an employer is at fault for your injury, you would be free to sue.
Another situation where you could sue is when the employer takes some kind of negative action against you for claiming workers’ compensation. Employers have been known to fire, demote or otherwise penalize people who try to exercise their legal rights. This is called retaliation, and it is grounds for a lawsuit.
Finally, you may be able to claim workers’ compensation and also file a lawsuit if there is more than one employer at a workplace. This is especially common in the construction industry, where there may be multiple contractors or subcontractors working together. In that case, you may be able to receive workers’ compensation payments from your own employer while also suing another contractor who you believe is at fault for the injury.
Hammer Them Back
Whether you’re suing, claiming workers’ s compensation or both, it pays to get an experienced Texas workers’ compensation lawyer on your side. An attorney can sort out who is at fault for an injury, show a reluctant employer that you’re serious about your rights, deal with insurance for you, and maximize the amount of money you receive.
If you were injured at a Texas workplace, you should call Jim Adler & Associates. Since 1973, we have hammered employers and insurance companies that use dirty tricks to get out of paying what they owe to injured workers. We’ve seen over and over again how this kind of injury affects our clients, and we use that knowledge to get our clients the best possible payments. And, we work for a contingency fee, which means we don’t get paid unless and until we recover money for you. To set up a free case evaluation, call us at 1-800-505-1414 or fill out our online case review form.