Amputation is among the most serious workplace injuries, frequently resulting in life-long disabilities, loss of income and significant medical expenses.
Workplace amputations can occur as an immediate result of an accident, or they may be done surgically as the only remedy for a prior traumatic work injury. Either way, the injured worker’s future life is forever severely altered.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 2,000 workers suffered amputations in 2013. The rate of amputations in the manufacturing sector that year was more than twice as much (1.7 per 10,000 full-time employees) as that of all private industries (0.7 per 10,000 full-time employees).
Since then, these numbers have gone up dramatically, with 6,200 amputations occurring in 2018 alone. Fifty-eight percent of those work-related amputations involved machinery.
This trend is alarming and raises questions about why these injuries are happening more frequently and what can be done to keep workers safe.
What industries have the highest rates of amputation injuries?
Workers in industries that require frequent driving or the use of sharp or heavy machinery have the highest rates of amputations at work, including:
- Manufacturing, including operators, fabricators and laborers
- Factory and warehouse workers
- Meat processing
Common accidents that lead to amputation injuries at work
The BLS also reported that the most frequent events responsible for fatal amputations were:
- Workers being caught in or crushed by equipment (42%)
- Transportation accidents (37%)
The percentages of non-fatal amputations were shared similarly by those groups.
Other events of non-fatal amputations included workers being struck by objects and body parts being struck by objects.
What qualifies as an amputation?
For purposes of workers’ compensation disability benefits, amputation is defined as a loss of 50 percent or more of a limb. A doctor must attest to that assessment.
Common causes of machine-related amputation injuries at work
Workplace amputations commonly occur when workers operate machinery that is unguarded or inadequately guarded. A variety of hazardous machinery can lead to workplace amputations, including:
- Power presses
- Roll bending machines
- Food slicers
- Meat grinders
- Meat-cutting band saws
- Milling machines
- Agricultural machinery, including tractors, combines and harvesters
Operation of these devices is hazardous even when properly guarded. Employers must post and enforce safety protocols for workers assigned to operate them.
Operation of material handling equipment (e.g., forklifts, trash compactors, and some hand tools and saws) also accounts for many amputations.
What machine components and motions are the most hazardous?
Some machine components are especially hazardous. They include the following:
- The point of operation (the area of the machine where the machine does its job)
- Power transmission parts, including flywheels, pulleys, chains, couplings and gears
- Other moving parts
Machines most likely to cause amputations are those that operate with particular hazardous motions. Those motions include:
The hazardous motion that these operations have in common is that the machine applies acute and intense pressure to the subject raw material. Some are sharp and some are dull. In either case, a worker can have a limb interfere with the motion and receive the same fate as the raw material. The most severe result is amputation.
Eligibility requirements for workers’ compensation in Alabama
Alabama, like other states, administers a no-fault insurance system to compensate employees for injuries or illnesses incurred while at work. Most employers with at least 5 employees are required to provide the required benefits.
The Alabama system is administered by the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Division (AWCD) of the Alabama Department of Labor.
Only full- and part-time employees are eligible for workers’ comp benefits in Alabama. Independent contractors and certain other limited categories are not eligible.
The worker’s injury or illness must also “arise out of and in the course of employment” to qualify for benefits.
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault insurance program
Workers do not have to prove that their employer is at fault for their injuries. In an ordinary personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove several elements. They must prove that the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, which the defendant breached. They must also prove that the defendant’s conduct was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury.
An injured worker does not have to prove any of those elements. However, as a tradeoff, an injured worker’s exclusive remedy against their employer is the award of workers’ comp benefits.
Workers cannot collect non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, emotional distress or loss of consortium. Also, punitive damages are not allowed.
Third-party lawsuits for amputations
The exclusivity of workers’ comp claims does not preclude an injured worker from suing a third party (someone other than the employer) under personal injury laws. Since most amputations are associated with machinery, it’s not uncommon that the machinery is the product of defective manufacturing, design or marketing (e.g., inadequate warnings).
An Alabama workers’ compensation attorney can help you determine which parties may be liable in your case and if a third-party lawsuit may be possible in addition to a workers’ compensation claim.
Alabama workers’ compensation benefits
Alabama workers’ compensation provides the following benefits to injured workers:
- Payment of reasonable and necessary medical, surgical, and rehabilitation services
- Recovery of lost wages, limited to two-thirds of the worker’s average monthly wages
- Compensation for temporary or permanent disabilities subject to limitations depending on the severity of the injury and duration of the disability
- Death benefits for surviving family members, including compensation for funeral expenses and lost income
How to file a claim for Alabama workers’ comp benefits
An injured worker must meticulously comply with the procedures required to file a claim for benefits. Insurance companies typically don’t like to pay claims. Some will use sneaky tricks and look for reasons to deny claims. You should contact an experienced workers’ comp attorney early on in the process for assistance to ensure your rights are protected.
If you’re injured and eligible for workers’ comp benefits, you must follow closely the requirements for filing a claim. These are the steps you must take:
- Immediately after your injury, you should see a doctor.
- As soon as you are injured (within 5 days), you must report the event to your employer or their representative.
- Your employer is required to file a First Report of Injury form with the AWCD.
- Your employer’s insurance company will probably contact you for more information before making a decision to approve or deny your claim.
If you do not comply with the required procedures, your claim could be compromised. You should engage an experienced workers’ compensation attorney as soon as possible because the process of making a claim is full of pitfalls.
You have 2 years after your injury to file a claim for benefits.
Options for a denied workers’ comp claim
If your claim is denied, Alabama does not have a special appeals process within the AWCD. Instead, you have 2 options:
- File a lawsuit with the Alabama district court, or
- Seek to resolve the dispute with the help of the AWCD Ombudsman program, which is essentially a mediation procedure.
It’s highly recommended that you contact a workers’ compensation attorney to help you with this process.
Prevention of workplace amputations
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) observes that amputations, like most workplace injuries, are avoidable. Employers should endeavor to recognize, identify and correct amputation hazards.
Some of the measures to take include:
- Installing guards and physical barriers from hazardous areas of machinery
- Adopting comprehensive safety regulations applicable universally to all operations of the employer
- Requiring operators to wear personal protective equipment
- Never bypassing, removing or tampering with machine guards
- Using whatever devices prevent contact with machinery points of operation
- Installing automatic stop devices that will interrupt the normal cycle of the machine when the operator’s hands or other body parts are near the point of operation
- Installing and implementing lock-out/tag-out procedures on all equipment
- Properly training equipment and machine operators with orientation and period sessions
- Prescribing or modifying safe work practices
- Posting all workplace safety protocols prominently in the workplace
Get help from an Alabama workers’ compensation attorney
Amputation injuries often require extensive medical care and treatment. As such, injured workers should engage an experienced workers’ compensation attorney for help with their claim to ensure these workers get the compensation they need for ongoing medical care and lost wages.
Insurance companies frequently offer workers far less compensation than they deserve, and once you accept a workers’ comp settlement, you won’t be able to ask for more money later if you discover your injuries require more treatment than you originally thought.
If you’ve suffered an amputation at work in the Birmingham area, contact the experienced workers’ compensation attorneys at Nomberg Law Firm. Our attorneys have extensive experience fighting for injured Alabama workers to get them the money they deserve. Let us handle the negotiations with your employer and their insurer so you can focus on healing.
About Nomberg Law Firm
Nomberg Law Firm has been helping people in Alabama recover fair compensation for their injuries since 1967. We know our clients are hard-working men and women who deserve the best representation possible. That’s why we’ve dedicated our entire practice to fighting for your rights after an injury.
The small size of our family-owned firm allows us to focus on our client’s needs and enables us to provide individualized assistance and personal attention that larger firms simply can’t match.