When a worker dies on the job, the employer may be held responsible for damages to surviving family members. The outcome of a potential wrongful death case will depend on a variety of factors, including what the employee was doing at the time and how much control the employer had over the circumstances resulting in the employee’s death.
Employers are required by law to provide safe working conditions for employees. But employers are not generally responsible to protect workers from choices they make beyond the scope of employment. A worker’s death on the job must have some connection to the employment relationship for an employer to be held liable. An experienced work injury lawyer like Ted Liggett has experience investigating on-the-job injury and death claims and knows how to present the facts in the best way to ensure his clients recover compensation.
A Worker’s Risk of Dying on the Job
According to the latest census of fatal occupational injuries put out by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 5,190 fatal work accidents in 2021 – an almost nine percent increase over 2020. The fatal injury rate was 3.6 fatalities for every 100,000 equivalent workers.
The BLS also compiled the following statistics about workplace fatalities:
- Transportation incidents are the most frequent type of fatal work event – making up almost 40 percent of all worker fatalities.
- Construction and extraction operations account for about 18 percent of annual worker deaths.
- Workers ages 45-54 make up over 20 percent of those killed in work-related accidents.
- Exposure to harmful substances or environments claimed the largest increase in worker fatalities since 2011.
Types of Jobs Where Fatal Accidents are Most Common
The BLS census identified the following top five occupations that produced the most worker deaths in 2021:
- Motor vehicle operators
- Construction trades workers
- Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations
- Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations
- Management occupations
Texas Construction Workers More Likely to Die on the Job
Texas employs the highest number of construction workers of any state. Workplace fatalities in the Texas construction and extraction occupations are second only to the transportation and material moving occupations.
The biggest risk of injury or death at construction sites is falling. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports inadequate fall protection at construction sites as its most often cited safety violation. Violations regarding the use of ladders and scaffolding are also in OSHA’s top five most violated safety standards.
Continued safety violations mean continued risk for construction workers and a disproportionately high incidence of fatal work accidents. In an effort to improve worker safety, some local Texas governments have enacted additional safety requirements for construction operations.
Laws that Apply When Someone is Killed at Work in Texas
The laws that apply in Texas after a worker dies on the job depend on which parties were responsible for causing the death, whether the employer was a subscriber to the workers’ compensation insurance program, and the particular circumstances resulting in the worker’s death.
Unlike every other state, Texas does not require most employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Employers who do subscribe to comp are generally not subject to personal injury lawsuits by employees; however, other parties operating on a jobsite are not protected by this same comp bar.
Texas offers no liability protection, however, for employers who opt out of the workers’ comp insurance system. Non-subscribing employers are subject to the same personal injury laws that would apply to anyone else responsible for a worker’s death and nonsubscribers can be held liable for the maximum compensation allowable by law.
It is crucial to remember that there are usually many companies operating at once on Texas worksites, especially in the construction industry. The surviving family of a worker killed on the job should never assume the only potentially responsible party is the employer; they should consult with an experienced wrongful death attorney who can investigate the circumstances of their case and identify any and all potentially responsible parties.
When Can an Employer Be Sued for a Worker’s Wrongful Death?
Employers who do not carry workers’ comp insurance can be sued directly for wrongful death and may have greater liability for damages under applicable personal injury laws. However, an employer must be found to have acted negligently, and that negligence must be a cause of the injury that caused the death for a wrongful death claim to succeed.
Damages may include compensation for the lost companionship of the deceased worker and for the suffering experienced by surviving family members. Non-subscribing employers are not allowed to minimize their liability by claiming the employee made a mistake, another employee is responsible, or the employee was aware of the risk and chose to ignore it.
An exception to the liability protections provided by the workers’ compensation laws exists for employers who are found to have acted with a degree of negligence beyond error, oversight, or carelessness in causing an employee’s death. Any employer who has knowingly disregarded the safety of employees and put them at risk may be sued directly for gross negligence, even if workers’ compensation insurance is available.
Separate Cause of Action for Survival
There may be occasions where an injured worker does not die immediately and experiences the same losses a personal injury victim would experience. If the deceased employee would have had a personal injury claim against their employer if they had they lived, that right of recovery survives the employee’s death and becomes a right of the employee’s estate for the benefit of their heirs.
Persons Entitled to Recover Compensation When a Worker Dies on the Job
Only close family members can be compensated for the death of a worker who dies on the job. The surviving spouse and children are entitled to compensation, as well as the parents of the deceased employee if they were financially supported by the decedent.
A survival action for personal injury that will benefit a deceased worker’s heirs and beneficiaries may include persons other than close family members depending on the circumstances.
Workplace Fatality Lawyers
The specific circumstances surrounding the death of a worker may require surviving family members to combat employer defenses in order to recover compensation. A personal injury attorney experienced in work-related fatal accidents can help a suffering family prove an employer’s negligence and recover the compensation they are entitled to for the loss of their loved one.
We strongly encourage you to reach out to a skilled wrongful death lawyer who can walk you through the steps in a wrongful death lawsuit and provide you with a path forward. Liggett Law Group provides a free consultation to the survivors of those killed at work and those injured on the job.