How to File a Claim After a Chemical Plant Accident

If you’ve been injured or lost a loved one in a workplace accident at a chemical plant, one of the first things you should do is file a workers’ comp claim.

The easiest and safest way to do this is to hire a workers compensation lawyer to do it on your behalf, and we are happy to help with that process.

You can, alternatively, do this yourself.  You’ll need to download the WC-14 form from the Georgia workers’ comp website, fill it out, and mail it to the address listed on the form. In the meantime, notify your employer of the accident if they are not already aware, and seek medical care from an approved provider in the workers’ comp Physician Database.  This, however, is just the start of the workers compensation process.

More importantly, your workers’ comp claim will not cover all of your expenses.

Workers’ comp is a no-fault system. The payout it offers will be the same regardless of whether the victim was being reckless, or just doing their job in an unconscionably dangerous environment.

The no-fault system allows for quicker payments, because there’s less investigation required, and it helps ensure workers who’ve made mistakes can still access care. However, the trade-off is that workers’ comp only covers certain approved medical expenses and a portion of lost wages.

This can be very frustrating for innocent workers and families who’ve been seriously harmed by negligence, and still end up taking an overall financial loss after their workers’ comp payment comes through.

It’s still a good idea to file a workers’ comp claim, but while you’re waiting for a reply, give some thought to the actual fault that led to your accident, and consider whether adding a civil suit may be right for you.

Good Workplaces Are Built for Safety

Every employer has a duty to maintain a safe workplace. When the work itself involves something as dangerous as handling toxic or volatile materials, it’s especially important for every aspect of the physical space, from the architecture to the machinery, to be designed with safety in mind.

Areas where fumes will be produced should be well-ventilated, machinery used near flammable substances should be spark-proof, and workstations and walkways should be protected from potential splashing.

In a truly well-designed workplace, safe work practices are almost effortless, and risky behaviors are difficult and unnecessary.

Workers Handling Caustic Materials Need Respiratory, Skin, and Eye Protection

This might seem like a no-brainer, and it really should be. Articles of personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves, goggles, masks, respirators, and coveralls are readily available, and their cost is miniscule compared with the potential cost of leaving workers without necessary protection.

Unfortunately, it’s still horrifyingly common for chemical plants to skimp on these items, or fail to enforce safe usage policies.

Last year, the Georgia Poison Center found that workers at Arch Wood Protection, a manufacturer of wood treatment chemical products, were being exposed to arsenic at 20 times the allowable limit. A subsequent OSHA investigation discovered, among other infractions, that the company was not providing adequate eye protection, and that the respirators on site were not being used or maintained correctly.

Flammable and Combustible Chemicals Require Special Handling

When a plant handles chemicals that have the potential to ignite or explode, management needs to be aware of this and plan accordingly at every stage, from selecting the right equipment to establishing protocols.

Even if the chemical is a recent invention, the onus is on the plant owner to proactively investigate wither flammability is going to be a problem.

Mishandling of volatile materials has led to multiple serious plant accidents in the past year.

In May of 2023, a worker was killed in an explosion at PolyCarbon Industries, a pharmaceutical chemical plant in Newbury, Massachusetts. OSHA discovered failures in both the company’s handling protocols and its understanding of the material in question.

Then, in November, a fire at Sound Resource Solutions in Shepherd, Texas sent one employee to the hospital and caused a shelter-in-place order for the entire town. The plant manufactured solvents used in glue and paint removers. Apparently, a worker had tried to move a leaking chemical container with a forklift and generated a spark.

Chemical Plants Have a Duty to Anticipate Long-Term Health Effects

When a chemical plant worker suffers serious health consequences from an unsafe workplace, those consequences aren’t always visible right away.

Many different forms of cancer, immune disorders, and other serious conditions can come to light years or decades after the victim’s last exposure to a toxic substance, or even show up in future generations.

The PFAS category of chemicals, for example, were linked to a series of birth defects in the children of plant workers back in the 1980s. Some evidence suggests that the companies producing PFAS knew about the dangers as much as 20 years earlier. Controversies over the continued use of these substances are still ongoing today.

Chronic exposure lawsuits do pose some additional legal challenges. The victim’s current health problems may have multiple overlapping causes, or the negligent companies may have changed their names or gone out of business.

However, the time limits for filing claims are usually much more flexible in cases with delayed effects, so it’s always worth checking with a lawyer about your options.

Full Compensation Will Require a Civil Suit

Unlike workers’ comp, a civil lawsuit has the potential to reimburse all of your financial losses, and provide you with additional compensation for the things you may never get back, like your pre-accident state of health, or missed time with your family.

Unfortunately, employers are immune to personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits from their employees and their families. However, industrial accidents are often the fault of more than just one company.

If you’ve been injured while working at a chemical plant, or lost a loved one to a chemical plant accident, you may still be able to collect full compensation by suing:

  • The plant owner, if you were working for a subcontractor or temp agency, rather than as an employee of the plant.
  • The landowner, if different from the plant owner.
  • The plant’s maintenance company. In fact, OSHA frequently investigates chemical plants and their maintenance providers side-by-side after a serious accident.
  • The manufacturer of any machinery involved in your accident.
  • The manufacturer of any PPE that failed to perform as intended.
  • The safety inspection organization that failed to address a dangerous situation before you could fall victim to it.

Civil lawsuits work entirely separately from workers’ comp. You can collect workers’ comp as normal while pursuing a lawsuit as well, and neither will interfere with the other.

If you suspect that you have a case against someone who contributed to your accident, or would like to speak with a lawyer for more information, feel free to reach out to the Stoddard Firm for a free consultation.

Attorney Matt Stoddard

Atlanta Personal Injury LawyerMatt Stoddard is a professional, hardworking, ethical advocate. He routinely faces some of the nation’s largest companies and some of the world’s largest insurers – opponents who have virtually unlimited resources. In these circumstances, Mr. Stoddard is comfortable. Mr. Stoddard provides his strongest efforts to his clients, and he devotes the firm’s significant financial resources to presenting the strongest case possible on their behalf. Matt understands that his clients must put their trust in him. That trust creates an obligation for Matt to work tirelessly on their behalf, and Matt Stoddard does not take that obligation lightly. [ Attorney Bio ]

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