Can I Sue Over a Heat-Related Work Injury?
Living in a hotter climate can mean greater exposure to the risk of heat-related work injuries, especially for outdoor workers who are exposed to inclement weather conditions on a frequent basis. According to the CDC, in the US alone, over 67,000 patients visit the emergency room to treat heat-related injuries annually, with approximately 702 of those people dying from their injuries.
As weather patterns change and different states experience more extreme temperature fluctuations, fewer workplaces are adequately trained in preventing heat stress injuries. Anyone can be a prime candidate for a heat-related injury, regardless of age, health, or gender. However, older adults, young children, people with lung or heart problems, outdoor workers, and athletes tend to experience a higher proportion of heat-induced injuries.
While heat-related injuries may not be the most immediate situation you imagine when imagining the different types of personal injury suits, it’s a far more common scenario than you may think.
Victims of heat exhaustion or heat stroke during working hours are eligible to file a claim so long as their injury could have or should have been avoidable had reasonable standards been enacted by their place of employment.
So what else do you need to know about filing a claim for heat stress injuries in the workplace? Let’s examine the impact of heat-related injuries and who’s eligible to file a suit below.
Types of Heat Stress
Heat stress has varying degrees of impact, depending on one’s exposure time to the heat and the severity of illness. According to OSHA standards, most heat stress symptoms begin when the body’s core temperature rises above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, resulting in muscle cramps, spasms, and pain. Victims can suffer more severe symptoms of heat stress which progresses to heat exhaustion and eventually heat stroke if left untreated.
Heat exhaustion victims exhibit a weak but rapid pulse, fast breathing, heat rash, fainting, and extreme perspiration. As the body continues to overheat, the body may go into heat stroke once the core body temperature rises above 104 degrees, resulting in:
- Slurred speech
- Hot, dry skin
- Loss of consciousness
- And eventually, death
Heat Injuries in the Workplace
Heat injuries are prevalent for outdoor workers of any kind, and OSHA estimates that the majority of heat-related fatalities occur in the first few days of heat exposure, as the body learns to regulate heat properly over time in a process called acclimatization. Additionally, other risk factors for heat-related injuries include heavy physical activity, hot environmental conditions, and heavy or poorly ventilated clothing.
While heat stress can occur both indoors and out, it’s especially prominent during heat waves, particularly in industries such as agriculture, construction, landscaping, mail delivery, oil/gas, warehousing, electrical, and manufacturing.
OSHA has specific workplace laws set in place to protect workers against potentially dangerous conditions, including overheating. Some of OSHA’s current guidelines for heat safety include the following:
- Ensuring workers are properly acclimatized to heat
- Encouraging workers to consume adequate fluids
- Promoting shorter work shifts
- Allowing frequent breaks
- Identifying and treating symptoms of heat illness
Can I Receive Compensation for Heat Exhaustion or Heat Stroke Injury at Work?
By law, an employer owes their employees a standard duty of care, which means providing them with safe and reasonable conditions to protect them from heat-related injuries. Employers who fail to adequately protect their employees may be held liable. Additionally, supervisors who fail to monitor children playing outside and protect them from heatstroke as well as businesses who plan outdoor events where heatstroke injury occurs, also have the power to be held accountable for heat stress injuries too.
The first step in pursuing your work injury claim is to identify the responsible parties, be it an employer, coworker, coach, property owner, or product manufacturer. Multiple parties may be to blame, so having your case evaluated by a personal injury attorney will help you correctly identify all who should be held accountable.
Since your injury occurred at work, you may be eligible for a workers’ compensation claim if it can be proven that your workplace violated current OSHA safety guidelines regarding heat exposure.
While your employer and their insurer may try to argue that your heat injury was caused by another pre-existing condition or is unrelated to your scope of employment, a personal injury lawyer will fight for your claim to ensure you receive the maximum compensation your injury deserves.
Heat stroke and heat-related injuries are common dangers workers in most states face during the summer. Without appropriate workplace procedures to protect against heat exhaustion and injury, it’s possible to file suit against an employer following a work-related accident.
Hiring a workers’ compensation attorney will help to ensure that you are awarded the financial compensation you deserve for your heat-related injuries and that no one else will be put in harm’s way at your place of employment. A skilled attorney will fight to guarantee your economic recovery from things like lost wages from missed work and reimbursement for medical costs.