- Overview of Workplace Negligence
- FAQ about Workplace Negligence
- Signs of Workplace Negligence
- How to Prove a Negligence Claim
Overview of Workplace Negligence
What is negligence? Negligence is an area of tort law that creates liability for people that fail to take reasonable care in avoiding injury or loss to another person. Generally, ordinary negligence occurs when someone does not act as a reasonable person would in certain circumstances. To prove negligence, you must prove four elements: (1) duty, (2) breach of duty, (3) causation, and (4) damages to plaintiff.
Workplace negligence is simply ordinary negligence, but in the context of the workplace. To prove workplace negligence, the plaintiff must show that the employer owed the victim the duty of care (element 1: duty), the employer breached that duty (element 2: breach), and the employer’s negligent action (or inaction) caused the victim’s injury (element 3: causation and element 4: damages).
There are four main scenarios of workplace negligence:
- Negligent hiring
- Negligent retention
- Negligent training
- Negligent supervision
An employer has the duty of reasonable care to screen job applicants to protect their employees and the general public that comes into contact with the workplace. When an employee commits a crime, an employer could be considered negligent if he or she did not uphold their duty of reasonable care in hiring new employees.
Negligence in retaining inadequate employees (i.e. negligent retention) occurs when an employer does not act against an inadequate employee. For example, if an employee were found to be untrained in using a piece of certain equipment that can be dangerous, such as an excavator. An employer must either train, reassign, or fire the employee, and not allow the inadequate employee to use the dangerous equipment. If the employer does not do so, then he or she may be liable for negligent retention.
After an employee has been hired, the employer has a duty of reasonable care to properly train him or her on all equipment they will be using in the course of employment. For instance, if a fast food employer failed to properly train an employee on how to use a fry machine, the employer could be found negligent if the employee or a co-worker were injured due to unsafe use of the equipment.
Negligent supervision is similar to negligent training. Employers have a duty to reasonably control and/or monitor the actions of their employees. Negligent supervision occurs when an employer fails to reasonably control or monitor employees. For example, an employer who ignores reports of threats or sexual harassment made by an employee against another employee can be found responsible through negligent supervision.
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FAQ about Workplace Negligence
What is workplace negligence?
Workplace negligence is when an employer breaches the duty of reasonable care owed to an employee, and such breach causes harm to that employee. Workplace negligence is the same as basic negligence, except in the context of the workplace.
How much can you sue for workplace negligence?
This depends on the specifics of your case. In a claim for workplace negligence that only amounts to ordinary negligence, a plaintiff may be awarded compensatory damages. The potential amount of money that you are awarded for compensatory damages depends on your injury. That is, you are “compensated” for your losses, so the amount of money you get should directly correlate to the amount that you lost.
On the other hand, if the workplace negligence claim arises to the level of gross negligence, punitive damages may be available. Punitive damages are different because it is money paid to the plaintiff by the defendant in order to “punish” the defendant. Punitive damages are not to reward the plaintiff, but to deter the defendant from repeating his or her reckless conduct. However, there are limitations to punitive damages. In Florida, there is a cap on the amount of punitive damages available in a personal injury lawsuit. Punitive damages may not exceed the greater of:
- Three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded or
- The sum of $500,000. (See the full text of the law here).
What rights do I have in the workplace?
You have many rights as an employee. To begin with, there are three main federal laws that are in place to protect employees:
- The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA): this governs employee wages and overtime hours;
- The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA): this provides employees with certain protections for health issues;
- The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA): this ensures safe work environments.
You also have rights during the application process, rights after being hired, rights to minimum wage and overtime, rights to medical leave, rights to not be harassed and discriminated against in the workplace, and rights to safe working conditions.
How does workers’ compensation fit in with workplace negligence?
If the workplace negligence caused an injury, then a worker is covered for such injury by workers’ compensation, if the [negligent] employer has purchased workers’ compensation insurance. In Florida, all public employers must have workers’ compensation insurance.
What if my employer does not carry workers’ compensation insurance?
Nearly all states, including Florida, require employers to carry some type of workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ compensation insurance covers injuries to employees at work, and instead of suing an employer to recover for injuries, the worker must go through the workers’ compensation process for recovery. Thus, if an employer does not carry workers’ compensation insurance, it is negligent on their part because it disrupts the process of recovery for an injured worker.
For instance, if an employee at a moving company sustained a back injury while unloading furniture, and his employer told him that the company wasn’t insured when he asked for the workers’ comp insurance information, the employee could sue his employer for damages. Damages include compensation for his medical bills, rehabilitation, lost wages, and transportation to and from therapy.
Signs of Workplace Negligence
There are various ways an employer can be negligent in the workplace. Here are just a few signs of workplace negligence:
- Unsafe, unstable, or dangerous conditions at the workplace,
- Unsafe or dangerous equipment in the workplace and/or no training for such equipment,
- Defective equipment,
- Not enough employee supervisors on the job,
- No initial screening or background check process when you were hired,
- Carelessness of the overseeing supervisor,
- Employees getting injured,
- Discrimination towards employees,
- Retaliation against employees for filing workers’ compensation claims,
- Not carrying workers’ compensation insurance.
How to Prove a Negligence Claim
In any tort claim, there are elements that must be proven to the court to establish the defendant’s liability (i.e. tort liability). Negligence falls under the umbrella of tort law. Thus, in order to prove that a defendant was negligent, you must prove all four elements of negligence:
- breach of duty
You must prove all four and not just one or two of the elements.
The first element that must be proven is whether the defendant owed a “duty of care” to the plaintiff. The duty of care is a standard in tort law to act as a reasonable person. This duty of care can be owed by a person or a business. For example, landlords who owe a duty of care to those who come on the property, and business owners who owe a duty of care to those who enter the business, including employees and customers.
Breach of Duty:
The second element that must be proven is that the duty of care was breached by the defendant acting (or failing to act) in a certain way. For instance, if a landlord breaches the duty of care by failing to install handrails on a staircase, then the second element has been met.
The third element, causation, is that the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s actions (or inaction) caused the plaintiff’s injury. In other words, the defendant must have caused the harm to occur.
Causation splits into two types:
- actual cause
- proximate cause
A plaintiff must establish both types of causation in order to prove the element of causation.
- Actual cause is exactly what it sounds like: did the defendant actually cause the harm? Actual cause is sometimes referred to as cause-in-fact.
- On the other hand, proximate cause is an extremely complex concept. Put simply, proximate cause asks whether the defendant’s actions (or inactions) caused a foreseeable consequence. Proximate cause is sometimes referred to as legal cause.
The final element of proof of negligence is damages. For this element, the plaintiff must show that he or she was injured or suffered damage as a result of the defendant’s actions (or inactions). Damages can be proven by personal injury, property damage, and in some cases, punitive damages.
The law of negligence is very complex and can be difficult to understand. Each case has a unique set of facts that make it difficult to determine whether or not you have a solid claim for workplace negligence. Let us help you make that determination easier.
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