A recent case out of Los Angeles put a spotlight on this very topic, and it set a precedent for the courts that can inform us of what to expect if we experience a similar incident.
Learn more about who is responsible when a technician is injured at a client’s home.
Acosta V. MAS Realty, LLC
Our plaintiff, Louis Acosta, worked as an electrical technician when the job put him to a commercial building owned by MAS Realty, LLC. Acosta got hit in the back by a roof access door with a broken hatch, causing severe back injuries.
Acosta sued MAS Realty, LLC and a jury awarded him $12.6 million. The prosecution argued that the property owners never warned Acosta or his employer about the faulty hatch.
Acosta’s victory was short-lived. MAS Realty, LLC appealed the decision in appellate court and won. Their lawyers argued that Acosta should have been able to recognize the hazard and minimize the risk according to standard safety procedures. The court decided that the property owner should only be responsible for the injuries if they tried to hide a known hazard or managed part of the project that directly contributed to the injuries.
In the United States, there were more than 2.6 million nonfatal workplace injuries in 2021 and over 5,000 fatal workplace injuries in 2021.
Some of the most common workplace injuries include:
- Falls, slips, and trips
- Contact with machinery or toxic substances
- Motor vehicle accidents
Cause of Workplace Injuries
There are a number of reasons injuries can happen at the workplace. The cause of the accident can play a large role in resulting litigation, so it’s important to establish the cause of the injury and find ways to prove it in order to get the best result in court.
1. Failure to provide safety training
All employees should receive safety training. Safety training for office employees will likely be limited to evacuation procedures and proper use of kitchen equipment in the break room. Manual laborers who work with dangerous objects and equipment in precarious environments receive much more extensive safety training. In many cases, the safety training is required in order to receive the license or certification required to work.
2. Not performing regular inspections and maintenance
All commercial buildings should get annual inspections to locate any potential dangers on-site. Owners of older commercial buildings may want to get seasonal inspections.
Vehicles, machinery, power tools, and other items will also require regular maintenance. When work accessories deteriorate, it’s the employer’s responsibility to repair it or replace it.
Employees who perform the inspections and maintenance have a responsibility to advise their supervisor about any hazards discovered.
3. Neglecting known hazards
Problems can occur when an employer knows about hazards yet disregards the warnings they receive. Written notice of ignored hazards can create a strong case for holding the employer responsible for any damages.
4. Employee error
It’s estimated that 80% – 90% of workplace accidents occur as a result of employee error. Employee error can be as egregious as operating work vehicles while intoxicated, or it can be as simple as an innocent oversight on a bad day.
When an employer provides safety training for their staff, the employer can reasonably expect the employee to adhere to that training.
How Different Insurance Policies Apply to Employee Injuries
When an employee gets injured while working, they must go after the correct insurance company for compensation.
Commercial General Liability (CGL)
Commercial general liability insurance is general coverage required by all small business owners. A CGL policy covers the business from financial ruin in the event of a lawsuit by paying legal expenses and settlements (up to the coverage amount). A lawsuit can occur if a client is damaged while at your business location or you cause damage to a client’s house. CGL policies also cover settlements in class action lawsuits. However, commercial general liability coverage does not cover damages incurred by employees while on the job.
There are several additional policies available to business owners who want coverage in more situations than covered by a CGL policy. Some of the add-on policies include:
- Professional liability insurance
- Product liability insurance
- Commercial vehicle insurance
- Personal and advertising injury coverage
- Fire legal liability
- Directors and officers liability
- Employment-related practices liability
Employees who get injured on the job will generally file a worker’s compensation claim. Workers compensation is a specific commercial policy designed to provide compensation to employees that get injured on the job. This includes getting injured while working at a client’s property. It extends coverage to injuries that occur while working from home and injuries that occur while walking to and from your car in the business parking lot.
Workers compensation coverage will not cover employee injuries in the following situations:
- Commuting to and from work
- Intentional self-harm
- Illegal activity
- Policy violations
Employee Health Coverage
If an employee’s workers compensation claim is denied, they will have to go through their personal health coverage. Most health insurance companies still provide coverage regardless of fault. However, it’s important to read through your policy carefully, as different policies may have different stipulations.
The employee will need to cover the cost of medical care not covered by their health insurance. They will also have to pay for copays when they have a doctor’s appointment and prescription medication. There will also be a deductible that must be paid before the insurance company takes over the payments. The health insurance policy will not provide compensation for missed work, pain & suffering, or emotional distress.
In some rare cases, homeowner’s insurance may cover an employee’s injuries if the homeowner was negligent or actively caused the employee’s injuries. However, the plaintiff will need to prove that the homeowner is liable. As Louis Acosta found out, proving liability can be more difficult than anticipated.
What to Do After Getting Injured at a Client’s Home
Step One: Inform Your Employer and the Homeowner of the Property
You should inform your boss and the client about the injury as quickly as possible after you’ve secured the area to prevent additional injuries. If possible, inform them via text or another form of written communication.
Step Two: Take Pictures of the Scene
Take pictures of the scene of the accident. The photos can prove unsafe conditions. Even if the space looks safe, the photos can provide additional insight after closer consideration. Keep the photos to yourself until you file a claim.
If a colleague witnessed the incident, ask for a formal witness statement.
Step Three: Consult with a Lawyer
After your injury, contact a lawyer. The lawyer will confirm whether you have enough support for your case and guide you on how to file the claim and who to file the claim with. The lawyer can also help you with what to say to your employer, the homeowner, and the insurance company.
Step Four: Get Medical Treatment
Visit a doctor either immediately or at the next available appointment, depending on the severity of the injury. For severe injuries, the doctor may recommend a leave from work, which you’ll want in writing.
Keep all medical documents organized. You’ll not only need to prove that you were injured but that the injury occurred as a result of the accident in question.
Step Five: Follow Up with Employer and the Owner of the Property via Email
Update all involved parties about your medical status and your plan of action moving forward. At this point, you will work with the insurance companies.
Step Six: Negotiate the Settlement
Your lawyer will help you file a claim with the appropriate insurance company. The company may offer a settlement. However, the first settlement is usually an insult. Your lawyer will negotiate a higher settlement for you using legal support to justify their requested amount. Most cases won’t go to court. The insurance company will likely increase the settlement amount if you have a strong case. Otherwise, they’ll have to pay more for the cost of going to court.
If you’ve been injured on the job, contact a personal injury lawyer in your area to schedule a consultation.