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Automobile Collisions / Workers' Compensation

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Are workers' comp laws protecting unsafe Wisconsin employers?

Individuals who are injured on-the-job are often left with many questions such as; how will my medical bills get paid? Or, what do I do if my employer fires me because I can no longer do my job? Surviving family members of an employee killed while at work not only struggle with the loss of their loved one but also what steps they need to take to receive the benefits available to them.

Wisconsin's workers' compensation rules were the first laws in the country to compensate employees for work-related illnesses and injuries. The trade-off for workers' compensation benefits is the inability of victims and their families to sue employers for safety violations.

The way the law currently stands, a wrongful death lawsuit may not be filed against Wisconsin employers. Companies pay a maximum workers' compensation penalty of $15,000 when negligence is traced to a workplace death.

Families of victims also receive workers' compensation benefits up to $256,000, based on the worker's yearly salary, and funeral expenses up to $10,000. No civil actions can be taken against employers or colleagues whose dangerous practices cause a fatality.

Product liability lawsuits may be filed against work equipment makers, but not against the owners of the workplace or its employees.

Federal inspectors can cite companies for safety violations, order corrections and recommend fines. Employers can dispute the findings and negotiate what they will pay to settle the issue.

Some Wisconsin employers have earned notorious reputations with records of repeat, purposeful safety violations. United Contracting of Forest Junction is on the list of more than 270 companies in the federal Severe Violator Enforcement Program, a list of the country's worst workplace safety violators.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined United Contracting almost $150,000 for two incidents near Fond du Lac last year. A media source says the company is planning to appeal the recommended fines.

The incident leading up to the company's adverse categorization stemmed from two incidents involving severe safety violations.

In one incident, a painter employed by the company was spotted by inspectors perched precariously on a bridge guardrail.

An employee from another incident was hospitalized a month after the first when he fell 25-feet from a ladder. The worker had been wearing a safety harness but the harness had not been attached to anything that could break the employee's fall.

The federal blot on United Contracting's safety record has not prevented Wisconsin state officials from hiring the painting company. United Contracting has been paid more than $9 million by the state in the last dozen years. Another $175,000 state bridge painting contract was added earlier this year.

  • Worker's compensation claims can be complex. Our firm is adept at handling those complex issues and pursuing benefits for injured workers. If you would like to learn more about our practice, please visit our worker's compensation page.

Source: greenbaypressgazette.com, "Families can't sue for workplace fatalities; check database," Nick Penzenstadler, July 23, 2012

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