Workers at warehouses and supply yards may use forklifts to move large quantities of heavy materials from place to place. However, many companies fail to provide adequate training and adhere to safety regulations to prevent forklift-related injuries or even fatalities to workers and others in the warehouse or supply yard.
When a forklift accident injures someone, they can generally seek compensation for expenses they incurred in the injury, such as income loss and medical expenses. Depending on the accident, workers can seek compensation through workers’ compensation or a third-party liability claim.
Here is a look at each type of claim and the circumstances where your construction accident lawyer might use each method.
What Type of Claim Should You File After a Forklift Accident?
Forklift accidents injure 35,000 to 62,000 people and kill 85 to 100 workers each year. About 20 percent of non-fatal forklift accidents and 13 percent of fatal ones involve pedestrians.
The specific claims process used after a forklift accident depends on:
- Whether the accident occurred because of the injured worker’s own actions or that of a co-worker or employer;
- Whether the accident involved a third-party’s negligence
- Whether the accident involved the injury or death of a non-worker, such as a pedestrian.
Workers’ comp generally handles injuries to workers that a third party, such as another company working at a construction site or a motorist traveling through a work zone, did not cause. Personal injury claims usually compensate for accidents involving third-party negligence or harm to passersby.
The Workers’ Compensation Process
Workers’ compensation is a form of no-fault insurance that most civilian employers must legally provide on behalf of their employees to cover wage loss and medical expenses of injuries and deaths resulting from workplace accidents. Nearly all states have a workers’ compensation program, though the requirements of these programs differ depending on state laws. Some states have workers’ compensation funds that employers pay into to obtain coverage for their workers, while others require employers to seek and get coverage from private insurance companies.
Because employers must obtain this insurance, as long as they comply with the coverage requirements, injured workers or family members of workers who die in forklift accidents are generally barred from suing their employer, even if the accident was the result of employer negligence, such as the failure to ensure that forklift operators were adequately trained. Because workers’ compensation is no-fault insurance, benefits are available even if the injured worker was responsible for the accident.
The claims process begins when the worker seeks medical treatment for their injury and makes an official report of the injury to their employer. The employer must then report the injury to their workers’ compensation insurer or the workers’ compensation board within a prescribed time. The insurance company or workers’ comp board then evaluates the claim and determines the benefits to provide for the claimant.
The benefits generally available through a workers’ comp claim include:
- Income loss benefits. The amount of wage replacement provided to the injured worker is determined based on their average weekly wage before the accident and the severity of their injury. Temporary injuries that the worker is reasonably expected to recover from within a relatively short period are compensated through temporary partial disability (if the worker can continue doing some of the tasks of their job but is limited by how much time they’re able to work) or temporary total disability benefits (if the worker is unable to perform any of the tasks related to their job but are expected to recover fully). If the worker is permanently disabled, they can seek permanent partial or permanent total benefits, depending on whether they can perform some type of work despite their disability or are substantially unable to perform any work-related tasks.
- Medical benefits. This is coverage of all reasonable costs associated with the medical treatment of their injury.
- Death benefits. This is awarded to the family members of a worker who is killed due to a forklift accident.
The Personal Injury Claims Process
U.S. Compliance, a company in EHS compliance solutions, reports that 20 percent of forklift accidents involve a worker or a pedestrian struck by the machine. Pedestrians technically have the right-of-way in areas where forklifts operate. Operators must use their horns when approaching an intersection, walkway, or place where pedestrians congregate to warn them of the approaching machinery. They may not carry passengers or exceed the machinery’s rated capacity to maintain vehicle control
Additionally, companies that use forklifts to move materials in areas where citizens are welcome must provide floor markings and designated areas to keep pedestrians and forklifts away from each other as much as possible.
When a third party’s negligence injures a worker, or a negligent forklift operator injures a pedestrian or motorist, your lawyer may suggest the personal injury claims process to seek compensation. While the personal injury claims process includes an expanded number of compensable expenses—including the psychological impacts of the injury the choice to file a personal injury claim or a workers’ comp claim does not depend on the worker’s preference but on the circumstances of the accident.
Forklift accident personal injury claims involve first filing the claim against the liability insurance policy of the at-fault party. Generally, this would be the business or property liability policy of the company the forklift operator works for, as employers are usually vicariously liable for the actions of their employees.
When the insurance company receives this claim, it assigns a claims adjuster to evaluate and resolve it. The claims adjuster will interview the parties involved in the accident and review other types of evidence, such as the official complaint and surveillance video, to determine how to respond to the claim. If they deny the claim, they must provide written notification to the claimant or their attorney, including a reason for the denial. If they determine that the claim should be paid as submitted, they have limited time to notify the claimant and process payment.
Most often, personal injury claims are resolved through an out-of-court settlement. A settlement is generally an agreement between the at-fault party’s insurance provider and the claimant in which the insurance provider offers an amount of compensation that is less than the established value of the claim. The claimant agrees not to pursue the matter in court in exchange for their willingness to pay on the claim.
If the insurance provider for the at-fault company fails to offer a fair settlement to resolve the claim, you may file a lawsuit. This civil action requests that a judge or jury hear the case details and determine whether the company bears liability for the accident and, if so, how much compensation it owes the claimant.
What Services Can an Attorney Provide Me?
In addition to helping you determine the appropriate method for seeking compensation for the injury you incurred, a personal injury lawyer who also handles workers’ compensation claims can provide many other services. In the workers’ comp arena, they can ensure that your claim includes all of the information needed to help the insurer determine the amount of wage loss compensation you are owed and can help appeal a claim denial, representing your case before various state-level workers’ comp boards or administrative law judges.
Additionally, they can help address other issues that can arise in workers’ comp claims, such as delayed payments and disputes with medical providers over the level of disability the worker’s injury presents. If a back pay settlement is needed, a workers’ comp lawyer will gather the necessary information to prove the amount of backpay owed and advocate vigorously for their client during the arbitration or settlement process.
In personal injury claims, an attorney plays a crucial role as they manage communication with the insurance provider about the claim’s value, the nature and extent of the injuries suffered, and the negotiation around settlement offers. They help their client by establishing a value to the claim that will compensate for the impacts and expenses they incurred due to the forklift operator and their employer’s negligence.
If you sue, your personal injury attorney will manage the legal process, representing you in all pre-trial and trial activities. These activities include obtaining evidence to strengthen the claim through discovery, filing and responding to motions in court, and presenting evidence and witness testimony to the court.
Finally, when compensation is ordered through the execution of a settlement agreement or a court order, the attorney can receive the award, settle any liens medical providers or insurers placed on the award, and pay the rest to their client.
Can You Afford a Lawyer to Take Your Forklift Accident Claim?
Lawyers who work on personal injury or workers’ compensation claims not only provide free case evaluations for potential claimants but also use a unique billing method so anyone injured in a forklift accident has access to the legal assistance they need.
The free case evaluation allows the attorney to discuss the accident and determine the client’s legal options. They can also answer questions the potential claimant has about their case or the claims process and explain the services their legal team can provide as the claimant navigates the process.
The contingency fee is a billing method that allows the claimant to wait to pay for the services of their attorney until compensation is received for the claim. When the claimant and the attorney decide to work together on the claim, they enter a contingent fee agreement. This agreement spells out the services that the attorney will provide and designates a percentage of the settlement the claimant receives for their claim to be given to the attorney as payment.
When the parties reach a settlement or the court makes an award, the compensation will be sent to the attorney. From the overall total, the attorney will deduct the agreed-upon amount for their payment and also use the award to pay for medical treatment given via a medical lien. The remainder of the compensation then goes to the claimant.
Forklift accidents are commonly far more severe than other types of workplace mishaps, so after a forklift accident, the question is not so much whether you should hire a personal injury attorney in New York to help you with your claim. Instead, the question is: How can you afford not to?
Mr. Finkelstein is the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP. He has become a noted consumer activist through his representation of injured individuals against corporate wrongdoers and irresponsible parties.
An accomplished litigator, Mr. Finkelstein has represented Plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has successfully handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases.