A loading dock is a chaotic, dangerous place. On a typical work shift, dozens of semi-trucks come and go, various kinds of material-handling equipment move freight across the floor, and large numbers of employees work in and around the dock. To stay safe, you have to be acutely aware of your own actions, as well as the actions of others. Even then, you may be injured. You can fall off the dock, be run over by a truck, be pinned or crushed between a truck and the loading dock, or injure yourself while loading or unloading materials. Loading dock injuries run the gamut, from sprains and fractures, to amputations and crushing's to death.
So what are your legal options when injured in a loading dock accident?
One option is to file a workers' compensation claim, whereby your employer's insurance carrier pays your approved medical expenses directly related to the injury, as well as a portion of your wages while you are incapacitated. Workers' comp may also cover vocational rehabilitation, temporary and long-term disability, and death benefits.
Workers' comp is a no-fault system, meaning it's not necessary for anyone to be found negligent for the insurance carrier to pay; the mere fact of the work-related injury is enough. However, there are severe limitations on the amount you can recover from a workers' comp claim. If your injuries are serious (and they often are), you will never be compensated to the extent of the harm you suffered.
Your second option is to file a personal injury lawsuit. The biggest differences between this and workers' comp are (a) a personal injury claim is based on fault, and (b) your claim cannot be lodged against your employer or a co-worker. That is, in order to win your personal injury claim, you must prove someone other than your employer or a co-employee was negligent. This is important because loading dock injuries often involve negligence on the part of a third party.
If you can prove negligence, you stand to recover a wider range of damages, including total loss of wages, compensation for disfigurement, inconvenience, and pain and suffering. In extreme cases, if you can prove the employer was grossly negligent or recklessly disregarded workers' safety, you may also be able to collect punitive damages-additional money awarded to you in order to punish the employer. However, you should note that some states, including Nebraska, do not allow punitive damages.
A personal injury claim lends the possibility of recovering far greater benefits, but you must prove negligence and wait for your case to be litigated. Workers' comp pays very limited benefits beyond medical expenses, but it may pay those quickly, enabling you to get the care you need, heal efficiently, and get back to work.
It's not unusual for an injured worker to have two claims arising out of a single accident. For example, you may be unloading freight when you get hit from behind by a forklift operated by an employee of a warehouse company. You would have (1) a workers' compensation claim against your employer and (2) a third-party personal injury claim against the forklift driver and the warehouse company.
In such an instance, it is important to prosecute both claims-first, the workers' comp claim, in order to obtain prompt medical care and indemnity benefits that are paid while you are off work rehabilitating; and second, the personal injury claim against the third party in order to recover damages for pain and suffering, inconvenience, disfigurement, and so on.
These situations are complicated, so an experienced lawyer absolutely must be consulted before making decisions that can permanently affect how much money and benefits the injured worker and his/her family can recover. If two claims are prosecuted-since they involve the same medical evidence-it is important to have one lawyer handle them both in order to avoid mistakes that can cost you, the injured worker, and your family thousands of dollars.
If you have suffered a loading dock injury and would like more information on how to make the right decisions, contact the lawyers at Brock Law (800) 639-1575.