Despite advances in workplace safety and regulations, on the job deaths do occur, and according to data released by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in December 2016, a total of 4,836 fatal workplace injuries occurred in 2015, the highest number of yearly fatal on the clock injuries in six years.
This averages to about 13 deaths every day.
Who was most affected by workplace death? The majority of the victims of workplace death were men; in fact women represented a mere 7% of total workplace deaths.
Among the leading causes of workplace fatalities were:
- Transportation indents – 2,054 deaths
- Falls, slips, and trips – 800 deaths
- Contact with object and equipment – 722 deaths
- Injuries caused by persons or animals – 703 deaths
- Exposure to harmful substances or environments – 424 deaths
- Fires and explosions – 121 deaths
As mentioned, the BLS determined that men accounted for 97% of workplace fatalities and workplace fatality rates tended to increase by age. About 20% of the deaths recorded occurred in construction.
Close to half of all workplace deaths were transportation related. Heavy truck and tractor-trailer truck drivers represented the largest portion of fatalities, followed by victims of slip and fall accidents.
Many employers carry workers’ compensation insurance in Texas. Under these plans, the employee is compensated regardless of fault and the employee’s family, in the case of death, receives partial income replacement benefits for various periods of time. The trade-off is the employee’s family cannot sue the employer for actual damages if the employee’s death was caused by negligence. This statutory immunity is granted by the Texas Labor Code.
However, this does not mean that an employer is immune from paying punitive damages.
Punitive damages may be pursued when a worker’s death is the result of gross negligence, meaning the victim’s death was caused by a risk known to the company but ignored despite their knowledge.
When punitive damages are pursued in place of workers’ compensation, the plaintiff may sue for two times the economic damages in addition to $750,000 of non-economic damages. As such, the plaintiff becomes responsible for proving actual damages (even though they are not recoverable) in order for the punitive damages to be calculated.
This is why it is best to have an attorney who is experienced in handling and proving on the job injury and wrongful death lawsuits.
If you think you are eligible for punitive damages, be prepared by asking yourself these questions first:
- Did the deceased employee leave a spouse and/or any children?
- Was the death caused not just by negligence but by possibly “gross negligence” of the employer? (meaning the risk was known and the company ignored the risks despite this knowledge)
- Is the gross negligence attributable to a vice-principal (i.e. manager/supervisor) or caused by conduct that had been ratified by the company (even implicitly) on previous occasions?
If the answer to the above three questions is “Yes” then Texas Law allows the surviving spouse and/or the children, not the parents, of the deceased employee to sue the employer for punitive damages.