How to receive compensation if you were injured on the job
In the United States, there are an estimated 3.7 million farmworkers, including 2.6 million family farm workers and 1.13 million hired workers. North Carolina alone employs approximately 150,000 farmworkers, most of whom are migrant workers.
Family farmers generally own and operate their farm businesses, while hired farmworkers may be assigned to specific jobs such as field crop workers, livestock workers, harvesters, sorters and more. Some of these workers are employed by family farmers, while some work for farm labor contractors or large corporate farms.
Injury statistics for farmworkers
Farm work is dangerous. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report in 2018, the fatality rate among farmers, ranchers and agricultural managers was 24 for every 100,000 full-time equivalent workers. By contrast, the “all workers” fatality rate in the U.S. is only 3.5 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers.
In 2017, there were 258 farm-related fatalities, making farmworkers 2nd only to truck drivers in deaths that year.
Common injuries for farmworkers
Farming is a very physically demanding occupation that comes with numerous risks. The following are the most common farmworker injuries:
- Falls from barns or other heights
- Limb amputations after getting stuck in machinery
- Suffocation in grain elevators or silos
- Breathing problems and lung damage after exposure to toxic pesticides and herbicides
- Head injuries and body injuries after being kicked or trampled by livestock
Do farmworkers qualify for workers’ compensation?
North Carolina law requires most employers with 3 or more employees to carry workers’ compensation insurance. However, a farming employer is only required to carry workers’ compensation insurance if they employ 10 or more full-time, non-seasonal employees.
An exception applies for farming operations that employ H-2A workers (temporary, nonimmigrant foreign workers). Any farming business that employs H-2A workers is required to provide workers’ compensation insurance benefits to those workers in case of an injury.
North Carolina workers’ compensation is a no-fault insurance program. If you’re injured on the job, you don’t have to prove your employer was at fault. However, North Carolina workers’ compensation laws are complex, and strict rules govern the filing of your claim, so it’s always best to contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to help you with the process.
Workers’ compensation benefits for farmworkers
Workers’ compensation is intended to supplement your income while you’re recovering from your injury as well as cover certain expenses. Workers’ comp benefits may include coverage for:
- Medical and rehabilitation treatments
- Income loss of up to two-thirds of your average weekly wage
- Partial disability and total disability benefits
- Death benefits for dependents
In order to receive benefits, an accident report needs to be filed with your employer within 30 days, and a workers’ comp claim must be filed within 2 years from the date of your injury. In addition, you must be seen by a workers’ comp approved physician.
Limitations on workers’ comp eligibility for farmworkers
There are legal and practical limitations on farmworker eligibility for North Carolina workers’ compensation benefits.
As previously mentioned, legally, a farmworker is eligible for workers’ comp benefits if they work for an employer with 10 or more full-time non-seasonal employees or are an H-2A worker. As a practical matter, many farmworkers do not meet those qualifications. Typically only large or corporate farm operations employ 10 full-time non-seasonal employees.
There are other obstacles to overcome besides a lack of employer coverage. Farmworkers are often reluctant to file claims for fear of employer retaliation. Additionally, although benefits cannot be denied to illegal or undocumented workers, these workers may fear that if they file claims, their status will be revealed.
Alternative remedies for farmworkers
An injured farmworker who is not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits has alternative remedies, which are sometimes better.
Many farmworker injuries result from faulty machinery. Often the machinery manufacturer is at fault, in whole or in part, for the accident and damages. If you’re a farmworker who was injured on the job, you might be able to file a personal injury case against your employer, a 3rd party or both.
However, unlike in a workers’ comp case, you’ll need to prove the other party was at fault for your injury in a personal injury case.
To prove fault, a plaintiff in a personal injury case must prove:
- There was an injury;
- The defendant had a duty of care that they breached; and
- The defendant’s negligence or intentional act was the proximate cause of the injury.
They must also prove the amount of allowable damages.
Some advantages to a personal injury lawsuit include:
- You can sue your employer for pain and suffering, among other non-economic damages.
- You can sue your employer for punitive damages.
- You can sue 3rd parties as well as your employer.
When to consult a workers’ comp attorney
Workers’ compensation and personal injury cases are complicated, and it’s not always easy to understand your rights. Benefit eligibility differs depending on your employer, the severity of your injury, your employment status and other factors. The best way to protect your rights is to contact an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer who can evaluate your individual case.