Claiming Compensation for Accidents at Work

When most of us leave for work in the morning, few of us consider that we may return home, days, weeks or months’ later, with serious, perhaps life-changing injuries.  In 2016/17, 175,000 employees were required to take seven or more days off work because of a physical trauma suffered on the job[1].  And for 137 workers last year, there was no homecoming; their life ended at work.

We all have a right to be protected from potential harm at work.  Employers have a statutory duty under section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and a common law duty derived from the law of negligence to provide a safe working environment.  Therefore, if an employee does suffer a workplace injury, compensation may be sought.

Types of workplace injuries

The most common types of workplace injuries in the year 2016/17 were caused by[2]:

  • slips, trips or falls – 29%
  • lifting and handling – 22%
  • struck by an object – 10%
  • fall from height – 7%
  • acts of violence – 7%
  • contact with machinery – 4%
  • strike against something fixed or stationary – 4%

The most dangerous sectors to work in are construction, manufacturing and agriculture.  However, accidents can happen in any workplace.  For example, one young woman received compensation after she got out of a delivery truck which was parked over a pothole in the organisation’s depot.  Unaware of the drop, she landed full force on one leg, severely damaging tendons and ligaments, necessitating several weeks of extensive rehabilitation to recover normal function.

Even seemingly mundane office work poses a risk of injury.  A badly designed workstation or desk set at the wrong height can cause long-term health problems including muscle strain, poor posture, eyestrain, and carpal tunnel syndrome.  Falling objects and lifting large items incorrectly can also cause serious injuries.

Reporting a workplace injury

If you have an accident at work, it must be recorded in the organisation’s workplace accident book.  All businesses except very small companies are required to have one of these.  The accident book will contain a record of the incident which caused your injury.  It also serves as a way to highlight any health and safety risks which need to be addressed by your employer.

Serious accidents must be reported under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) and this is the responsibility of the employer.  Examples of incidents which require RIDDOR reporting are:

  • fractures (apart from fingers, thumbs and toes)
  • amputations
  • damage to eyesight
  • crush injuries which damage internal organs
  • serious burns
  • head injuries which cause unconsciousness
  • death

These types of events may result in an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive.  Their report and any subsequent prosecution can be used as evidence to support your claim for compensation.

Seeking medical attention

Regardless of whether you believe you need medical attention, you should still see a doctor following a workplace accident.  For serious injuries, you should be taken to Accident & Emergency.  It is important to remember that physical symptoms from some injuries may not present themselves for a few days or even weeks.  The medical records which are created during your medical care will be used by your solicitor to build your case for compensation.

Types of damages which can be awarded

The compensation (or damages) awarded for a workplace injury will depend on the type of injury received and the long-term effect it has on your life.

There are two types of damages which are awarded for personal injury: general damages and special damages.  General damages are awarded for the non-tangible effects of a serious injury, such as pain and suffering and loss of amenity.  Special damages are designed to compensate the victim for the specific costs of the injury; for example, past and future loss of earnings, parking at the hospital, past and future medication and treatment costs.

Recently £1.5 million was awarded to a person who suffered a ‘Lisfranc’ fracture to the right foot at work, which developed into CRPS (complex regional pain syndrome). Their prognosis was poor; they were unlikely to return to employment, suffered depression due to the intense, ongoing pain, required future care, and had to change accommodation.

The damages were made up of:

General damages

  • pain, suffering and loss of amenity: £60,000

Special damages

  • past loss of earnings: £67,000
  • past care, treatment, aids and equipment costs: £33,000
  • future loss of earnings: £545,000
  • future loss of pension: £25,000
  • future care, treatment, aids and equipment costs: £590,000
  • future accommodation costs: £180,000

 Rehabilitation

Accessing suitable rehabilitation is crucial to recovering from a workplace injury.  If you bring a claim for compensation, under the Pre-Action Protocol, your solicitor and your employer’s representatives (usually their insurers) are encouraged to work together and follow the Rehabilitation Code 2015 to ensure a rehabilitation plan is designed and implemented as soon as possible.

No Win, No Fee

Many victims of workplace injury find themselves under considerable financial pressure.  They are understandably concerned that by bringing a claim for compensation, they are exposing themselves to the risk of paying high legal fees.  However, most personal injury solicitors offer No Win, No Fee arrangements (also known as Conditional Fee Arrangements).  This means that should you case be unsuccessful, you will not be required to pay legal fees (but you may be charged for expenses linked to your case).

Final words

Workplace injuries can have devastating consequences for the victim and their family.  Although financial compensation can never fully make up for what can sometimes be lost, it can assist with helping to rebuild your life and adjust to the ‘new normal’.

Bennett Griffin are award-winning solicitors based in West Sussex with offices in central Worthing and Ferring.  Our experienced and specialist solicitors offer a comprehensive service and will work with you in an honest, considered and practical manner.  If you require legal advice, please contact us on 01903 229 999 or by email at info@bennett-griffin.co.uk for more information.

[1] http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causinj/index.htm

[2] ibid