Well it finally happened, an employee was injured and you are worried that they are going to file suit against your business. 

In this article we are going to discuss what you can expect to happen, how you can protect your business (and your employees) and why the issue of workplace injury needs to be taken seriously.

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) is the federal agency that helps with workplace injuries and will likely be the organization you, as a company, you will have to work with. However the injured party may also bring on a personal injury attorney that you will work with but the process for either party will be the same.

OSHA is straightforward to work with. They will require you to show that you were doing everything in your power to keep this employee safe and that this was an unfortunate accident.

As the employer, it is on you and your leadership team to provide the necessary training to ensure your employees are aware of the dangers they may experience at your company. Whatever industry your business is in; it is on you to know all the risks that come with working in that environment and providing your people with all the information they will need to carry out their jobs effectively and safely. These can range from workshops, in-person training, video resources, and classes. Also be sure to include signage, labels, and anything else you feel necessary.

Remember that your employees are your people. Take care of them. If an accident and/or injury occurs and either OSHA or a personal injury attorney gets involved, the burden of proof will always fall on you. It is up to you to prove that you were doing everything you could to keep this person safe.

Provide your employees with a good health benefits package that will include short-term and long-term disability care. Invest in a good business insurance policy so if a workplace injury occurs, you are able to help that employee by covering their medical expenses. Do all these things and when OSHA or the personal injury attorney shows up, you can show them all the training you do, the safety measures you provide and they will not be able to sue your business for negligence.

Now let’s say maybe you weren’t doing everything you could to protect your employees and one of them gets injured, OSHA will come down hard on you and your company will have to pay the consequences which will typically appear as having to pay punitive damages.

If you ever hear of a company having to pay someone $X amount to either a customer or an employee, this was likely a case where the business was found negligent and has to pay $X amount in punitive damages. 

It’s saying there was something the business was doing wrong that caused the person or persons to be injured and the courts then awarded them a certain amount of money as recompense.

Case Study: Leibeck vs McDonald’s [source]

One of the most well known cases is the case that involved a woman who spilled a cup of McDonald’s coffee in her lap and was awarded $3 Million dollars in punitive damages for the burns she suffered.

McDonald’s had incorporated a policy into its’ operations manual that required franchises to hold its coffee at 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit, however coffee at that temperature, if made contact with skin, causes third-degree burns in three to seven seconds.

McDonald’s had initially refused to cover the medical bills for Liebeck, and their argument was that she was the one who was at fault for spilling the coffee in her lap. This backfired, however, because the case was brought to trial and upon examining the facts of the case, the jury overwhelmingly agreed with Mrs. Liebeck and that McDonald’s was at fault.

Mrs. Liebeck’s experience was not unique, either. McDonald’s had received more than 700 previous reports of injury from its coffee and they were able to prove the McDonald’s was not doing everything it could to protect its customers. 

Over the years this case has received a lot of criticism with terms like ‘frivolous lawsuit’ being tossed around. This is due in large part to the marketing team at McDonald’s who have done a remarkable job at reframing the case in a way that paints McDonald’s as the victim

I remember once thinking how dumb it was that some lady was paid millions of dollars for spilling her coffee on her lap. If you think that, you are a victim of their marketing like I was. What they don’t show are the facts that they were serving their coffee 15 degrees Fahrenheit above safe human consumption levels. 

But all we ever heard was how ridiculous it was that someone was paid that much money for spilling coffee.

The Takeaway

At the end of the day it is important that you remember that there will always be risk when you run a business. That risk could be to your employees or it could be to your customers; and it is your responsibility to protect them to the very best of your ability. 

If you need help reviewing your employee handbook, cap tables, or other contracts please contact us today or schedule a free consultation call.


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