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Workers compensation

Injuries and Accidents That Qualify You for Workers' Compensation

Written by
A drawing of the lead workers' compensation lawyer for Atticus.
Victoria Muñoz
Lead Attorney
February 13, 2023  ·  6 min read
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Atticus offers free, high-quality workers' compensation advice to those injured at work. Our team of Stanford and Harvard trained lawyers has a combined 15+ years of legal experience, and help thousands of Americans get the benefits they deserve each year.

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Getting injured at work is not only physically painful — it can often have an immediate impact on your finances. No matter how minor the incident, being unable to do your job for any amount of time puts you in a stressful position. Despite this, workplace injury victims are a critically underrepresented group. The Laborer’s Health and Safety Fund cites some damning statistics on workplace injury reporting — despite 30 percent of surveyed workers experiencing injury-related lost time from work, only 5 percent reported their injuries to OSHA.

If you’ve been injured at work and you’re not sure how to seek financial assistance, we’re here to help. This article breaks down everything you need to know about injuries and accidents that qualify you for workers’ comp, as well as situations where the answer isn’t so clear.


What is a workplace injury?

The term “workplace injury” may seem pretty unambiguous, but many different factors determine how it is legally defined. The U.S. Department of Labor provides a step-by-step breakdown of the situations that qualify injuries as work-related. At a basic level, a workplace injury is when an event or exposure in your work environment either caused or contributed to your injury or significantly aggravated a pre-existing condition. 

The next step is being clear on what your work environment is. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), it’s "the establishment and other locations where one or more employees are working or are present as a condition of their employment. The work environment includes not only physical locations but also the equipment or materials used by the employee during the course of their work."

There are situations where you may be present in your work environment while sick or injured but won’t be classified as the victim of a workplace injury. Things like being at your work premises but not “on the clock,” voluntarily participating in recreational activities at work, or getting injured in the parking lot on your way into the office can all void a workers’ comp case. Check the OSHA’s determination of work-relatedness for more examples.


Why are people not reporting their workplace injuries?

Hypothetically, reporting a workplace injury if you’re the victim seems like a no-brainer. However, there are plenty of reasons people keep quiet when they’ve been harmed at work. One of the top reasons is the fear of disciplinary action by superiors, alongside the fear of negative labeling from peers and supervisors (being branded as lazy, clumsy, incompetent, or weak). Other causes of underreporting include not wanting to deal with complex paperwork or logistics, peer pressure around unethical incentive programs, lack of paid sick leave, or sometimes even a “shake it off” mentality. 

Regardless of outside factors, you should never feel ashamed or scared to report your workplace injury. There are laws and systems in place designed to protect you throughout the process.


The most common workplace injuries and accidents

Every industry carries its own heightened risks, which means there is some decent variation amongst the most common workplace injuries and accidents in the U.S. From retail workers and health professionals to laborers, no worker is immune to potential workplace injury. According to the National Safety Council, these are the most common categories of incidents across the board. 

Exposure to harmful substances or environments

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, this category is now the leading cause of work-related injuries and illnesses involving days away from work. In this instance, harmful substances or environments can include:

  • Electricity
  • Radiation and noise
  • Extreme temperatures
  • Air and water pressure changes
  • Oxygen deficiency

In this category, other harmful substances include contagious and infectious diseases such as COVID-19.

Overexertion and bodily reaction

In any physically demanding job, overexertion is a very real threat. The acts of lifting, pushing, turning, holding, carrying, or throwing can all be potential triggers for overexertion. Symptoms can include dizziness, nausea, and fatigue, while serious muscle strain or bodily injury can also occur. 

That being said, repetitive motion injuries must also be taken into account. While these injuries appear lower-impact, it’s the repeated stress or strain on the body that can take a toll. Conditions like tendinitis and bursitis are classified as repetitive motion injuries. 

Slips, trips, and falls

This category is pretty self-explanatory — it encompasses all manner of slips, trips, and falls in the workplace. This can count if the person:

  • Slips and corrects their balance before a fall
  • Falls onto or against an object on the floor they’re on
  • Falls to a lower level or jumps to a lower level
  • Falls from a collapsing structure
  • Falls through a surface
  • Falls from ladders, roofs, scaffolding, or other structures

Contact with objects and equipment

In this instance, contact means more than just a bump. We explain some examples in greater detail below:

  • Being struck by a moving object
  • Making physical contact with an object (bumping into, stepping on, kicking, or being pushed onto equipment)
  • A body part being squeezed, pinched, compressed, or crushed in equipment
  • Being struck, caught, or crushed due to collapsing structures, equipment, or materials

Transportation incidents

Those in the transportation industry are particularly vulnerable to workplace incidents. The open road, air, and water are all dangerous places where many circumstances are out of your control, so it’s no surprise that transportation incidents rank highly in workers’ compensation cases. There are a large number of events that fall under this category, including but not limited to the following:

  • Aircraft incidents
  • Rail vehicle incidents
  • Pedestrian vehicular incidents (including workers being struck by a vehicle in a work zone)
  • Water vehicle incidents
  • Roadway incidents involving motorized land vehicles (including collisions with other vehicles and objects)

For a transportation incident to qualify for workers’ compensation, it has to have occurred while you’re on the job — not while you’re on the way to your workplace. So if you have to make a delivery on behalf of your employer and are injured, a workers’ compensation claim may apply. If you’re just on the way to the office — you likely don’t qualify (though you may still qualify for a personal injury case or disability benefits. More on those benefits here).

Violence and other injuries by persons or animals

Ideally, you should be free from the threat of violence in your workplace. Unfortunately, accidents happen, and people slip through the cracks. This category covers intentional and unintentional injury at the hands of another person, as well as animal and insect-related incidents.


Accidents and injuries that don’t qualify

Some incidents and circumstances may seem like they would qualify you for workers’ comp but actually don’t. We talk through some of these scenarios below.

Injuries outside the scope of employment

You might think just being on your work premises or being on the clock means you qualify for workers’ comp, but that’s not the case. Injuries outside the scope of your employment won’t be counted — if you get hurt offsite on your lunch break, suffer an injury during your commute, or are mucking around with a colleague and things get physical, your workplace cannot be held responsible.

Cumulative events and injuries

Cumulative events and injuries can also be tenuous territory when deciding workplace fault. Different states have their own laws regarding conditions and diseases that worsen over time. Generally, seeing the advice and support of a medical professional can help to determine if your work contributed to a cumulative event or injury. This evidence is vital if you plan to pursue workers’ compensation.

Stress and mental health

Finally, mental health conditions can be tricky — but not impossible — to prove as work-related. In particular, stress is hard to quantify in terms of work. As it’s generally expected that most people experience workplace stress to some degree, it can be hard to make a claim solely on this factor. In this instance, it’s best to seek support from a doctor or lawyer who can help verify your claims and any co-morbidities arising from stress.


Getting help and clarification

We know it can be frustrating trying to navigate the waters of workers’ compensation — so let us help you through it. At Atticus, it’s our job to simplify the process of connecting you to the resources you need to successfully apply for workers’ comp. From articles and FAQs to handy explainers, we’ve collated the most up-to-date information on workers’ compensation — all sourced from legal professionals who deal with these cases for a living. Not sure where to start? You can take our free and easy workers’ comp quiz to see what you qualify for.

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Frequently asked questions about workers’ comp

How does workers’ comp work?

The workers’ comp process starts when you report your work injury or illness to your employer. Then you have to file a claim within a certain amount of time so you can qualify for weekly payments and reimbursement of your medical bills while you recover.

Can I get workers’ comp if the injury was my fault?

Yes. You can qualify for workers’ comp no matter whose fault the injury or illness was, as long as it happened while you were doing your job. Our guide to qualifying accidents and injuries will help you see if you could get coverage.

Do all workers qualify for workers’ comp?

You're probably eligible for workers’ comp if your employer withholds taxes from your paychecks. Independent contractors don’t usually qualify, but states may offer coverage to certain contractors, volunteers, or seasonal workers. Check with your state workers’ comp board to see exactly who qualifies in your area.

How much does workers’ comp pay?

Workers’ compensation is generally worth up to two-thirds of your pre-injury wages, but exact rates vary by state. Read more about how much workers’ comp pays in each state.

Do I need a workers’ comp lawyer?

Not everyone needs to work with a lawyer, but a workers’ comp lawyer can especially help if your claim is denied, if you get a settlement offer, or even if your claim just lasts for more than a few months. Here are some situations when a lawyer can help you.

How long do workers’ comp benefits last?

How long your benefits last varies by state, but you usually have until you reach maximum medical improvement (MMI). There are also long-term options if you can’t return to work after injury.

Is workers’ comp taxable?

No, workers’ comp benefits aren’t taxable. That's true whether you get weekly payments, a lump-sum settlement, or a settlement with a structured payment plan.


See what you qualify for

How long ago did you get an injury or illness at work?

A drawing of the lead workers' compensation lawyer for Atticus.

Victoria Muñoz

Lead Attorney

Victoria Muñoz is an attorney on Atticus’s Workers' Compensation team. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of Stanford Law School, and has counseled hundreds of people seeking workers' compensation. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and spending time with her pup.
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