New York workers’ compensation lessons from a textile worker’s injury

In a recent workplace accident at a New York textile factory, an employee suffered an injury that resulted in the amputation of their hand while working on a fabric-softener sheet cutting machine. The incident provides an example of the types of issues workers can find themselves navigating while attempting to get workers’ comp benefits for on-the-job injuries.

Here at Silverman, Silverman & Seligman, P.C., we fight for injured employees every day to get their rightful New York workers’ compensation benefits.

Three things most injured workers can learn from this case include:

Lesson #1: The employer does not have to be at fault for workers’ compensation to cover the injury.

The United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited the employer after this injury for safety violations, including a lack of proper machine guards, failure to properly train forklift operators and creation of fire hazards from blocked exit routes.

Initially, the company fought the citations but ultimately agreed to a settlement with OSHA, agreeing to take specific steps to improve safety.

While the employer’s unsafe practices and OSHA citations are of great concern, they do not impact the injured employer’s workers’ comp eligibility for benefits based on the severed hand. The “grand bargain” of a workers’ compensation system is that each employee gives up the right to sue their employer for negligent injury in exchange for guaranteed workers’ compensation benefits for work-related injuries or occupational diseases – regardless of whether the employer, the employee or someone else was at fault for the harm.

Instead, the only requirement for an injury to be covered is that the worker was injured during the course of their employment and as a result of their employment. Even if the employer did everything right to create a safe workplace and had no safety violations, the injured worker would still be eligible for benefits if the harm arose out of and in the course of their job.

Narrow exceptions to coverage may include injuries from horseplay, alcohol, drugs or an intentional act.

At our Schenectady office, our attorneys at Silverman, Silverman & Seligman, P.C., advocate aggressively to show the link between our clients’ work injuries or illnesses and their jobs.

Lesson #2: An amputated hand is eligible for a Schedule Loss of Use (SLU) award.

When a New York employee has a work-related injury or illness that causes a permanent functional impairment of certain body parts, New York workers’ compensation law provides for an SLU award to compensate for the permanent loss of the contribution to work tasks that body part could have otherwise provided in the future. The SLU award may be over and above some other kinds of benefits like permanent partial disability (PPD) and medical coverage.

Using this case as an example, for an amputated hand, the worker is likely eligible for the maximum of 244 weeks of compensation allowed for 100% loss of use of a hand, according to a state chart of eligible body part losses available at the link above. Such an injury may also qualify the worker for a second SLU award since an arm without a hand is also permanently functionally impaired. The additional SLU award for the arm might be, for example, set at 80% loss of arm use.

The dollar amount of an SLU award is a function of the body part’s value in the chart (represented by a set number of weeks of benefits), the percent of functional loss of that injured body part and the worker’s average weekly wage (AWW), two-thirds of which are used in the SLU benefit calculation. The worker may take the SLU award payout over time or in a lump sum.

Other body parts that if permanently impaired may support eligibility for an SLU award include the arm, leg, foot, eye, thumb, fingers, big toe, other toes, sight, hearing and disfigurement. (Awards for loss of hearing or sight and for disfigurement are calculated differently.)

The lawyers of Silverman, Silverman & Seligman, P.C., present robust evidence of functional loss of a covered body part in an SLU claim so that our clients receive the full SLU payout that they deserve.

Lesson #3: Workers deserve their workers’ comp benefits.

Lawmakers wrote the workers’ compensation laws in New York to help workers in these types of situations. Unfortunately, employers and their insurance companies may attempt to deny coverage or not provide all the benefits to which the injured worker is entitled. In these situations, it is often wise to promptly seek legal counsel. An attorney can build the case from the beginning, increasing the likelihood of a positive outcome.

Although cases can be appealed and, in some instances, overturned, it is an uphill battle. Waiting until you have received a denial to retain a law firm for representation is the wrong way to go about it. We at Silverman, Silverman & Seligman, P.C., suggest that you retain counsel immediately and put the effort into winning initially rather than trying to recover in an appeal. It is much better to win at the lowest level and have the insurance carrier appeal than to have the carrier win requiring you to appeal.

There is no additional charge for getting us involved early and avoiding an appeal can save months or even years in the resolution of your claim. While appeals are sometimes necessary, and while we do undertake appeals, Silverman, Silverman & Seligman, P.C., tries very hard to avoid a situation that generates an appeal. It is not our intention to give you a dramatic, remarkable case. We try as hard as we can to give you a boring, uneventful, successful claim.