According to the CDC, 61 million adults in the United States were living with a disability in 2022. While some disabilities can be congenital or otherwise naturally develop over time, some can be the result of an injury. Such disabilities can come with unique challenges and long-term impacts. Therefore, if you or someone you love has sustained an injury-related disability, it is important to understand what options and resources are at your disposal.
Unmet Needs Among People With Injury-related Disabilities
“Unmet needs” refers to the health and wellness needs of people who are not being properly attended to. In the case of people with disabilities, this will often particularly refer to needs that are unique to the individual, their disability, and their circumstances. Unmet needs can include the following:
- Lack of access to prescribed medications;
- Improperly prescribed medications;
- Lack of access to necessary healthcare specialists;
- Lack of access to necessary healthcare services;
- Inability to gain necessary day-to-day assistance and care;
- Improper address of necessary accommodations at work;
- Lack of access to accessible transportation;
- Lack of access to important healthcare information;
- Lack of access to important healthcare funding assistance.
However, this is not the full extent of possible unmet needs that people with injury-related disabilities may experience. Such individuals need to meet with helpful professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, HR personnel, and personal advocates to assess their needs and properly inform them about avenues for meeting these needs.
People With Injury-related Disabilities Caused in the Workplace
Employers can be liable for injuries incurred in the course of an employee’s work if it was found that the employer did not take proper precautions to prevent the injury. Meanwhile, depending on the severity of the injury and how much it interferes with the individual’s ability to work and their quality of life, they may be entitled to compensation. Therefore, long-term disability resulting from an injury sustained in the workplace can be cause for a significant payout to the injured employee.
How Common Is Workplace Injury in the U.S.?
In the U.S., approximately 2.8 million nonfatal injuries occur in the private sector annually. Some of these injuries may result in temporary or permanent disabilities, with an average of 21 days of disability logged for each work disability reported in the U.S. Furthermore, while some disabilities may be permanent, they are not always total. Total permanent disability (TPD) is relatively rare, and refers to a permanent disability that prohibits you from being able to continue to work.
What Is the Average Claim Amount for Workplace Injury?
According to the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), the average cost of a workplace injury claim was $41,353 from 2019 to 2020. The types of injuries that accounted for the highest costs were related to amputations, fractures, crushes, dislocations, and burns. Meanwhile, injuries related to the head and central nervous system are among the most costly in the context of workplace compensation.
Understanding Workers’ Compensation
Workers’ compensation is a type of insurance that is meant to compensate employees for wages and employment benefits lost as a result of an injury at work. Specific laws related to workers’ compensation depend on the state where the employees are located. Meanwhile, the parameters for federal employees are detailed under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA). Depending on factors such as pertinent laws and the severity of the injury, an employee may receive payment for wages and benefits lost.
Typically a workers’ compensation claim can be filed as soon as the employer has been notified about the incident. However, the claim can often be filed up to a year or more after the incident, depending on relevant state laws. How long it will take to begin receiving benefits will depend on how long it takes for the claim to be processed, but typically it shouldn’t take more than a month. The amount and duration of your compensation will depend on the circumstances of the injury and the laws of your state.
In some unique cases, a third party is responsible for the injury, in which case the injured individual may sue this third party, even if their direct employer is shielded from a lawsuit. This would differ from a standard workers’ compensation case, as the injured employee would be directly suing the third party rather than seeking a payout from their employer’s workers’ compensation insurance.
Alternatives to Workers’ Compensation
Standard workers’ compensation is not the only way employees can be financially protected against injury in the course of their work. Several laws and standards protect employees’ wages in various specific circumstances and lines of work.
The Jones Act
The Jones Act is a section of the Merchant Marine Act that relates to cabotage. According to the parameters of the Jones Act, ships transporting goods between U.S. ports must be constructed on U.S. soil and staffed by U.S. citizens. The Jones Act also outlines the rights of marine workers in the United States, including compensation related to negligence.
A maritime worker employed on a qualifying ship can bring a lawsuit against their employer for any injuries they sustain as a result of the negligence of the owner or the unseaworthiness of the vessel. The lawsuit can be tried in either a state or federal court within three years of the incident. In addition to the narrow eligibility of potential plaintiffs, the Jones Act differs from traditional workers’ compensation insurance because it allows the plaintiff to sue their employer directly.
If negligence is proven, maritime workers can receive compensation and may receive benefits in the form of maintenance and cure. “Maintenance” is a no-fault daily stipend, while “cure” is no-fault medical care. In the case of no-fault medical care offered to claimants, it is important to note that the individual can choose their healthcare provider rather than having to choose a provider from a specific system, as is common in workers’ compensation cases.
The Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) is a law that provides parameters for railroad workers who are seeking compensation for injuries sustained in the course of their work. However, while in many ways FELA serves a similar purpose to traditional workers’ compensation, there are key differences.
Notably, FELA allows plaintiffs to file a lawsuit against their employer directly, and FELA acknowledges suffering and emotional distress in addition to physical injury. Further, in contrast to the Jones Act, while FELA does not offer “maintenance and cure” provisions, there are often union-negotiated provisions for medical care and disability, which are ultimately offset against awarded compensation.
The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) is a federal law that protects individuals in various private-sector maritime jobs who have sustained injuries covered under the parameters of the LHWCA. The benefits of the LHWCA also extend to civilians working on military bases as per the Defense Base Act.
The LHWCA provides more substantial and comprehensive benefits than those offered by many state workers’ compensation programs. Often the LHWCA pays a greater fraction of the employee’s pre-injury wages and offers long-term disability benefits that are not available through all state compensation programs.
While some states have severe penalties for businesses who fail to carry workers’ compensation insurance (such as California, Pennsylvania, New York, and Illinois), other states (such as Texas, Oklahoma, and New Jersey) allow businesses to opt-out of workers’ compensation programs. In these cases, employees are free to sue their employers directly. Employers who pursue this option typically are large companies who manage these lawsuits through in-house arbitration programs.
Catastrophic Injury and Disability
In the context of workers’ compensation laws, catastrophic injury refers to an injury that causes permanent disability, permanent disfigurement, or fatality. Injuries that sometimes fall under this umbrella include:
- Spinal cord injury and paralysis;
- Amputation of leg or limb;
- Severe brain injury;
- Second- or third-degree burns;
- Injuries producing blindness.
Someone who has been deemed to have sustained a catastrophic injury may be eligible for permanent disability benefits through workers’ compensation.
Other Financial Benefits and Resources for Injury-related Disabilities
The following are other resources that someone with an injury-related disability may be able to utilize for financial support:
Eligibility for these programs will vary; if you have questions about qualifying you can reach out to the contacts listed on each respective page listed above.
Workplace Injury and Wrongful Death Lawsuits
When a person dies while completing their work duties, their loved ones may be entitled to compensation. They will usually be able to get compensated in cases where it is determined that negligence on the part of the employer contributed to the employee’s death.
Surviving loved ones can sue for compensation such as lost household wages, medical expenses, funeral expenses, and the financial support they need to cope with emotional distress. Family members can also sue for punitive damages in the event that a court determines the defendant acted in a reckless manner that directly contributed to the employee’s death.
Legal Resources for Injured Employees
A personal injury attorney is an invaluable consultation and defense resource for someone who has experienced an injury at work or elsewhere. Specific legal resources that may be more helpful to injured employees include:
- Wrongful death attorneys: Wrongful death attorneys specialize in helping the loved ones of individuals who suffer fatalities resulting from employer negligence.
- Maritime accident attorneys: Maritime accident attorneys specialize in helping people who sustain workplace injuries while working in the maritime industry.
- Oilfield injury attorneys: Oilfield injury attorneys specialize in helping people who sustain workplace injuries while working in oilfields.
- Offshore accident attorneys: Offshore accident attorneys specialize in helping people who sustain workplace injuries during offshore work activities.
Further Resources for People With Disabilities
Additional health resources for people with disabilities include: