Some professions are inherently dangerous and many employers, whether inadvertently or deliberately, do not adhere to safety protocols or provide their employees with the necessary safety equipment. When any safety issues like these arise, workers can rely on the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). Since 1970, OSHA has enforced worker health and safety rights. A Louisville personal injury lawyer from Sam Aguiar Injury Lawyers often uses OSHA to support wrongful death claim lawsuits.
Kentucky’s Occupational Safety and Health Laws
The OSHA Act established specific workplace safety and health standards and created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. This agency is empowered to set and enforce further workplace safety and health standards. Employees bringing wrongful death or other safety-related lawsuits against their employers often use OSHA inspection findings about employer safety compliance (or lack thereof).
Over half of U.S. states operate their own federally approved Occupational Safety and Health plans. Kentucky’s plan is known as Kentucky Occupational Safety and Health (KYOSH).
Both laws require Kentucky employers to provide employees with workplaces free from recognized safety and health hazards.
Understanding Wrongful Death Claims in Kentucky
When a worker dies at a worksite in Kentucky, the deceased worker’s family may pursue compensation in civil court through a wrongful death claim. This kind of claim hinges on proving that the death stemmed from negligence or misconduct on behalf of an employer. In a workplace context, a wrongful death claim might have resulted from any of the following:
- Criminal behavior by another employee.
- Gross negligence.
- Reckless conduct, such as operating equipment while intoxicated.
- Exposure to recognized safety and health hazards.
- Use of products or equipment that were defective, among other conditions.
In a personal injury case, the plaintiff’s attorney must prove that a duty of care existed between the plaintiff and the defendant. They must then also prove that it was because of this breach in duty of care that the plaintiff suffered their injury and/or damages.
The Difference Between Workers’ Compensation and Wrongful Death
It’s important to distinguish between workers’ compensation and wrongful death claims. Worker’s compensation is a program funded by employers that covers expenses and lost wages for workers injured on the job. Workers’ compensation may also result in a lump sum death benefit being paid to the estate of workers killed on the job. The worker’s compensation system is designed to help employers avoid wrongful death suits, even in cases where the employer was at fault. With the help of an experienced personal injury lawyer, Louisville worker representatives may still be able to recover damages, even if the worker was killed because of the negligence of a third party, such as a subcontractor.
OSH Violations and Wrongful Death Claims
As per federal and state law, the employer must provide a safe work environment for its employees, along with safety training and education designed to minimize workplace accidents and hazards. They must also comply with safety standards established by the OSH Act and the Kentucky state plan.
Some courts do not treat violations of the OSH Act as negligence per se. However, many consider violations as evidence and will consider documented violations admissible in personal injury cases. It’s important to note that neither OSHA nor the KYOSH review commission investigates violations on behalf of individual workers. Attorneys representing injured workers should never ask federal or state compliance investigators to open an investigation and wait for its conclusion before suing, as these investigations typically move very slowly.
Kentucky’s Wrongful Death Law
In Kentucky, the representative of the worker’s estate must file a wrongful death suit on their behalf, though family members may benefit if the estate is awarded damages. More specifically, if the deceased is survived by only a spouse and no children, the spouse would receive the full award. If the deceased is survived by any of the following combinations, the award is divided equally between them:
- A spouse and children.
- No spouse but multiple children.
- Parents, but no spouse or children.
If the deceased had none of these surviving relatives, the award would go to those named in their will.
In Kentucky, there are no caps on what a judge or jury may award a deceased worker’s estate in the event of a wrongful death. A personal representative may pursue a claim that covers damages such as:
- Funeral bills.
- Pain and suffering.
- Medical bills incurred before death.
- Lost earning power.
- Loss of consortium by surviving relatives.
Punitive damages may also be sought when the conduct that caused the person’s death was intentional and egregious. These damages are designed to punish the third party and act as a deterrent to others. Such cases must be brought within one year of the worker’s death or appointment of an estate representative.
Of course, employers and their legal teams will often try to argue that they are not liable in wrongful death cases. Defense attorneys will seek to prove the worker died as a result of the worker’s own:
- Reckless conduct.
- Failure to seek appropriate or timely medical attention.
The employer may also contend that the worker’s death stemmed from a statistically improbable event or occurred due to medical malpractice on the part of the medical professionals who treated the worker after the injury. Employers may also seek to limit their liability by proving that the worker or a third party was at least partially at fault.
Seeking Legal Recourse in Wrongful Death Claims
If a loved one dies at the workplace or from a work-related injury, it’s important to seek legal representation as soon as possible. An experienced wrongful death attorney will need time to investigate and build the strongest possible case against the employer before the expiration of any applicable statutes of limitation. Experienced wrongful death attorneys will know to work with safety representatives to present a compelling case and recover the maximum damages possible.
Sam Aguiar Injury Lawyers Has Your Back
If you know or suspect that your loved one died due to a worksite accident, injury, illness, or related misconduct, contact our experienced team of Louisville personal injury lawyers. We can help increase your chances of receiving the compensation your family deserves. We have considerable experience winning a variety of personal injury cases, including wrongful death suits, slip and fall cases, and other practice areas where another party’s negligence comes into play. To maximize your chances of getting the compensation your family deserves, contact us today to schedule a free assessment of your case.