When work-related incidents result in serious harm to employees in Illinois, victims may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. For an injury or condition to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, the incident must have occurred in the course of the worker’s job duties, on company property, or during activities that were performed on behalf of the employer.
Common Work-Related Incidents that Are Compensable
There are a wide variety of types of injuries that are typically compensable under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. While some incidents result in minor injuries or illnesses that require moderate medical treatment and short-term recovery time, others are so severe that they result in extensive medical care, the inability to work, long-term or permanent damages, or fatality.
Work-Related Slip and Fall Accidents
In Illinois, if a person is injured as a result of a slip and fall accident while on the job, he or she will likely be able to recover workers’ compensation benefits regardless of who was at fault for the accident. Frequent causes of slip and fall accidents include:
- Poor lighting and obstructed walkways
- Defective elevators/escalators, unsafe stairways, unsafe sidewalks and driveways
- Slippery floors, wet or snow-covered walkways and areas with flooring defects
If an employee is injured in a slip and fall accident in another location – perhaps even another city or state – while engaged in work-related travel, the victim may still be entitled to recover workers’ compensation benefits. And since injured workers are not prohibited from suing third parties that were responsible for slip and fall accidents, a property owner or manager, product manufacturer, or other responsible entity may be able to be held liable for worker injuries.
Fumes, noise, environmental contaminants, and other occupational hazards are common for some jobs due to the nature of the work involved. Employees often develop occupational exposure injuries, such as hearing loss, allergic reactions, asthma, and fatal diseases, like mesothelioma and lung disease, as a result of exposure.
Mesothelioma from asbestos exposure is one of the most common types of occupational exposure injuries, but there is a number of other types of occupational exposure injuries for which workers’ compensation benefits may be available. For instance:
- Employees who are exposed to high levels of noise, such as factory workers, airline employees, or construction workers, may develop hearing loss as a result of their job.
- Employees who are exposed to unsafe levels of certain fumes and environmental contaminants may develop asthma or other respiratory problems.
- Healthcare workers who are exposed to contagious disease or infection may develop severe conditions that render them unable to work.
Depending on the cause of the fumes, noise, or occupational hazard, the injured worker may also have a third-party personal injury claim against a party other than the employer. For instance, if the fumes inhaled were dangerous, the product’s manufacturer could be liable for any resulting injuries in a product liability lawsuit.
Needlestick injuries, also called sharps injuries, are a common workplace injury within the healthcare industry. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 600,000 to 800,000 needlestick injuries occur each year in the United States.
Needlestick injuries are such a pervasive occupational hazard that various laws are in place to help increase employee safety. For example, the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act imposes safety regulations on Illinois hospitals and certain other employers.
If a person suffers a needlestick injury:
- It is important to first obtain necessary medical treatment.
- He or she should immediately report the accident to the employer.
- If possible, victims should find out the infection status of the patient whose blood they were exposed to and immediately get tested for infectious diseases, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV.
When needlesticks are workplace injuries, victims are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, which may include medical expenses, weekly lost wage benefits, lump sum settlements, lost wage differential, and, if necessary, permanent total disability.
Gradual Hearing Loss
Over 30 million workers in the United States work in areas with noise levels hazardous to hearing. The CDC estimates that more than 9 million are regularly exposed to chemicals and other substances that are toxic to ears.
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Industries at high risk for hearing loss include:
- Manufacturing: Most work-related hearing loss occurs to employees within the first 10 years of working in the manufacturing industry.
- Construction: Forty-five percent of construction workers experience some level of hearing loss.
- Entertainment: Waitstaff, DJs, bartenders, security, and other nightclub or entertainment venue employees are often exposed to noise levels well above 100 dB for several hours each night.
Work-related hearing loss often occurs gradually over time. When negligence by a company leads to employee injuries, the company should be held responsible. OSHA estimates that businesses pay over $1.5 million in penalties each year for not protecting workers from noise.
Exposure to Poisonous Plants
It may start with a red, itchy rash on the skin. Emerging as a series of streaks or patches, it soon turns into red bumps or large, oozing blisters. These are all tell-tale signs of exposure to poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac and many other poisonous plants.
People often become exposed to poisonous plants while participating in outdoor recreational activities, such as camping or hiking, but outdoor workers including farmers, landscapers, groundskeepers, gardeners, and construction workers may also become exposed to poisonous plants. Forestry workers and firefighters who battle forest fires are also at risk of developing rashes and lung irritation from the smoke produced when the poisonous plants burn.
To prevent complications that often develop due to exposure to toxic plants, employees should:
- Wear long sleeves, long pants, boots, and gloves.
- Wash exposed clothing separately in hot water with detergent.
- Use barrier skin creams, such as a lotion containing bentoquatum, when working outdoors.
- Wear disposable gloves to clean tools with rubbing alcohol or soap and lots of water.
- Never burn plants that may be toxic.
If a worker is exposed to poison oak or other poisonous plants while on the job and is unable to work as a result, he or she will generally be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
Food poisoning can occur anytime contaminated food is consumed, whether at a restaurant, at home, or on the job. Depending on where the contaminated food was consumed and who prepared or served the food, liability for food poisoning may be assessed against an employer, a restaurant or a product manufacturer.
When an employee contracts food poisoning while on the job, the injured employee may be able to recover workers’ compensation benefits. Generally, an injured worker is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for any injury that occurs during the course of employment. To determine if an employee is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for food poisoning, the following factors may be considered:
- Whether the food provided by the employer is part of the employee’s wages
- Whether the food poisoning was contracted while the employee was on an official food break
- Whether the employer’s cafeteria or food service was provided exclusively to employees
Proving that an illness was the result of exposure to a particular food can be challenging. Knowledgeable Chicago personal injury attorneys can help victims with the challenges and legal complexities of pursuing a food poisoning claim, including food poisoning workers’ compensation claims and claims brought against a restaurant or food manufacturer.
If an employee is injured by an attacking animal while performing activities in the scope of his or her employment, the victim is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Although injured employees who are covered by workers’ compensation insurance are prohibited from suing their employers for injuries sustained in an on-the-job accident, they may be able to sue any responsible third parties like:
- Dog or cat owners
- Animal keepers
- Leash or cage manufacturers
In Illinois, the owner of a dog could be liable for damages and injuries that result when an unprovoked dog attacks a person and injures that person, regardless of whether the dog actually bites the victim. An attempted dog attack that results in injuries is enough to create dog owner liability. Under the Illinois Animal Control Act, anyone injured by an animal, including an employee injured on the job, may recover compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and property damage from the animal’s owner.