Most people will cut accidentally cut themselves doing chores around the house. But a cut on the job can lead to serious consequences for many workers. So when is a cut not just a cut?
Industrial amputations and crush injuries
Workers in meatpacking and manufacturing frequently suffer serious cuts and amputations from blades and crush injuries. From a legal perspective, employers often accept initial responsibility for these injuries under workers’ compensation.
But even if the employer accepts responsibility for paying workers compensation, the employer may attempt to blame the employee for the injury. This means employers will pay medical bills related to a cut or amputation, but will fire the employee for some safety violation. Employers will often deny paying temporary disability benefits to an employee they accuse of violating safety rules.
Safety violations and retaliation
Employers can argue employee safety violations as a defense to paying workers’ compensation benefits. I will concede that sometimes employees violate safety rules. But other times, employers fire employees on flimsy pretext of a safety violation. Employees may be able to bring a retaliation case in that circumstance.
But, Nebraska workers’ compensation law might also provide some additional remedies for an employee fired for a bogus safety violation. Nebraska workers’ compensation law awards a 50 percent penalty and attorney fees if there is no reasonable controversy about entitlement to benefits. No reasonable controversy is a difficult standard for an employee to meet. But a flimsy termination related to a work injury used to deny benefits is one circumstance where fees and penalties may be likely.
Moisture, infection and amputation
But even less serious cuts can present complications. The complication I see the most is moisture. Workers in packinghouses often work in wet environments. This moisture can infect cuts and lead to amputations.
Moisture can also present other issues. For example, a food service employee required to wear gloves during their work would sweat under the gloves. That sweat would increase the risk of infection of a cut and could lead to an employee missing work.
Side effects of medication
Medications can reduce the risk of infection for a serious cut. But medications have side effects that can sometimes require medical treatment. In a recent Virginia case, a bowel disorder caused by medication prescribed to prevent infection was an injury covered by workers compensation. The Virginia decision relied on the so-called “compensable consequences” doctrine. Nebraska recognizes the “compensable consequences” doctrine and will pay benefits related to adverse side effects of medication.
But workers’ compensation insurers often balk at covering infections from cuts and side effects of taking medication from work injuries. Cut, crush and amputation injuries aren’t the only injures that involve compensable consequences. However, proving these consequences is easier in cut and crush cases because of the obvious nature of the injury and how it was caused.