Drowning Accidents and Worker's Compensation

Although most people think of drowning accidents in the context of recreational swimming, certain occupations are associated with an increased risk of drowning and near-drowning accidents. In today’s post, the drowning accident lawyer at the Doan Law Firm will provide a look at how worker’s compensation law deals with accidental drowning as a workplace injury and then offer suggestions that may help workers and their families determine if their injury or loss is covered under their state’s worker’s compensation law.

Overview of worker’s law

Each state has a system of laws and regulations that are intended to provide an injured employee with benefits such as salary protection and any necessary medical expenses following a workplace injury. Additionally, the federal government’s Department of Labor administers worker’s compensation laws that are “industry specific” such as programs for injured railroad or postal service workers.

Regarding drowning and near drowning accidents, the job categories that have historically seen the highest rates of job-related drownings include:

  • Professional divers
  • Offshore oil and gas rig workers
  • Waterway construction, inspectors, and maintenance workers
  • Fish hatchery workers
  • Commercial fishermen
  • Dock workers
  • Wildlife law enforcement agents (e.g. park rangers and game wardens)
  • First responders and water rescue personnel

Drowning accidents and first responders

Due to the nature of their work, there is a relatively high incidence of drowning and near-drowning accidents involving first responders such as firemen, water rescue personnel, and police officers. An issue that often arises is that of what, exactly, is an “on the job” injury involving an off-duty fireman or policeman. A recent New Mexico civil lawsuit has been cited as a precedent in such cases.

An off-duty police officer drowned while attempting to rescue a child in distress due to a boating accident. The officer’s family filed a worker’s compensation death benefit claim on the grounds that the rescue attempt was “incidental” to the officer’s employment, but the claim was rejected. The New Mexico Supreme Court overturned the rejection on the grounds that police officers are, essentially, always “on duty” and that the rescue attempt was something that the officer would have attempted had he been in uniform. Since police officers are “on duty” at all times, the officer’s death was indeed incidental to his employment and the surviving family was therefore eligible for the state’s worker’s compensation death benefit.

Although this case dealt only with a police officer, the reasoning of the state Supreme Court could easily be extended to include other law enforcement officers, firemen, and full-time (paid) rescue personnel.

Compensation that may be available to drowning accident victims

Worker’s compensation usually provides an injured worker with a certain percentage (up to 80% in many states) of their average weekly or monthly wages. If a worker dies because of a work-related drowning accident, in most cases a death benefit will consist of some multiple of that workers average yearly income over the previous three to five years.

In addition to wage protection and medical expenses, worker’s compensation benefits can include:

  • Physical and occupational therapy
  • Psychological counseling
  • Modifications to the worker’s residence that may be necessary due to long-term disability
  • Medical transportation and/or modifications to the worker’s personal vehicle that may be necessary due to the nature of his or her injury
  • Uncategorized medical or rehabilitation expenses

There are times, however, when the worker or the worker’s family will consider a worker’s compensation settlement to be inadequate or even unfair.

A worker or the worker’s family has the legal right to challenge any worker’s compensation settlement offer. Such challenges usually begin at the administrative level and, if an equitable settlement cannot be reached, the worker or the worker’s survivors have the legal right to sue a state worker’s compensation board to force a fair settlement of their claim.

Why you need a worker’s compensation drowning accident lawyer

Worker’s compensation laws can vary considerably from state to state, usually in matters that define the types of workplace injuries, the available benefits, and the amount of compensation due an injured worker. It is also fair to say that state worker’s compensation boards will attempt to limit their costs by unfairly limiting the ultimate cost of a worker’s injury claim. In such cases it is always advisable to consult with a drowning accident attorney before accepting or rejecting any worker’s compensation drowning injury settlement.

A drowning accident attorney will be familiar with the worker’s compensation laws of the state where the accident occurred and how the dollar value of such settlements is computed. Such information is vital in determining whether or not a settlement is in your best interest. A drowning accident attorney will also have access to experts in the field of drowning accidents and these experts may be able to discover additional factors that may bear on the amount of the final claim settlement.

In closing, drowning accidents are seldom due to one specific cause. Only by retaining the services of a drowning accident attorney can you be assured that your claim is settled in a manner that is fair to all concerned parties.