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LOWRY: Workers have options after workplace injury

The workplace can be dangerous, putting employees at risk of injury or even death.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 4,821 fatal work-related injuries in 2014, marking a five percent increase over the prior year and the highest number of workplace-related fatalities since 2008. During the same period, private industry employers reported nearly three million nonfatal workplace-related injuries and illnesses.

In the U.S., the most common types of on-the-job injuries tend to involve overexertion, slips, falls, machine entanglement, vehicular accidents and repetitive motion. An injury can occur because the work environment is unsafe due to negligence, dangerous conditions, improper training, defective equipment or hazardous chemical contamination. Injuries can also be caused by repetitive motion or heavy lifting.

In Georgia, workers’ compensation insurance is required by law for any business with three or more workers, due to the risk of injury to employees performing their contracted duties. An employer’s workers’ compensation policy can provide limited medical, rehabilitation and income benefits to workers who are injured on the job as well as benefits for dependents if an employee dies as a result of a job-related injury.

However, workers’ comp payments are typically low and do not provide compensation for pain and suffering. In addition, this employer-provided benefit does not offer punitive damages that would effectively punish a company for sub-standard safety controls or dangerous conditions.

There are many situations when it makes sense for an employee injured on the job to look for non-employer or third-parties that may be responsible for causing the injuries and to retain a personal injury attorney in order to receive the maximum recovery. For example, an employee who has been injured by a defective product or toxic substance can bring a products liability action against the manufacturer of the product or substance. Also, if a third party caused an injury on the job, filing a personal injury lawsuit against that party might be a strategic option.

In most cases, fault does not need to be determined in order to file a workers’ compensation claim. The burden of proof tends to be lower in workers’ comp cases, but the compensation available is typically lower as well.

However, in a strong case with clear liability, it makes sense to file a claim in a court of law, allowing a judge or jury to determine the appropriate award, based on the specific details of the case. Every case is unique, but it’s important to remember that employees have rights – and choices – when it comes to workplace injuries. An attorney can help protect your legal rights and represent your interests if you are injured on the job.

Stephen G. Lowry is a partner with the law firm of Harris Penn Lowry LLP. He can be reached at steve@hpllegal.com, 912-651-9967 or www.hpllegal.com.

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