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Does Workers' Comp Cover Plumbers' Accidents?

Injured plumbers in New York need to know their legal options

With over 26,000 people working as plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters in New York State, it's one of the largest professions of its kind in the country, as per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

However, like any occupation, work-related accidents can happen in the plumbing industry, resulting in severe injuries. Fortunately, in most instances in New York, injured plumbers are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. These benefits offer essential support, including financial compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and other costs associated with workplace accidents.

But what about plumbers specifically? Does the workers’ compensation system in New York cover plumbing accidents, and how does it work for self-employed plumbers? Our New York workers’ compensation lawyers at Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP are here to provide clarity on these important questions.

How common are plumbing accidents?

Each year, over 3,000 plumbers experience severe work-related injuries, which typically lead to an average of around 1,400 days off work, based on workplace accident data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

What are common plumbing injuries?

Plumbers can be susceptible to a range of work-related injuries, with certain types being more prevalent. Common plumbing injuries include:

  • Bone fractures: Among the most frequent are broken bones, often occurring in the hands, arms, legs, and feet. These fractures can result from falls, heavy lifting, or other accidents on the job.
  • Respiratory injuries: Exposure to hazardous chemicals or substances, such as asbestos, can lead to respiratory problems. Plumbers may suffer from lung conditions or other respiratory illnesses due to prolonged exposure.
  • Burn injuries: Plumbers are at risk of burns, either from contact with hot surfaces or electrical accidents. These injuries can range from minor burns to severe, life-altering burns.
  • Back and knee injuries: The nature of plumbing work often involves heavy lifting and awkward postures, which can lead to back and knee injuries, including herniated discs, knee ligament damage, and spinal cord damage.
  • Head injuries: Plumbers may experience head injuries, such as concussions or traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), resulting from falls or impact accidents on the job.
  • Repetitive stress injuries: The repetitive nature of plumbing work can contribute to conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive use injuries that affect joints and muscles.
  • Eye injuries: Plumbers may suffer partial or complete loss of vision due to eye injuries sustained during work activities or due to exposure to hazardous materials.
  • Hearing loss: Working with noisy machinery or in loud environments can lead to partial or complete hearing loss over time, affecting a plumber's quality of life.
  • Amputation: In severe accidents, plumbers may experience amputation, leading to the loss of a limb or finger, which can have long-lasting consequences.
  • Chronic pain: Some plumbing injuries result in chronic pain that persists for months or longer, impacting an individual's daily life and overall well-being.

What are common causes of plumbing accidents?

Like many other work-related injuries, plumbing injuries often occur for one of two reasons – a sudden, unexpected accident or long-term use or overuse due to performing similar work for months or years in a row. Specific causes of plumbing accidents include:

  • Slip and fall accidents, which often occur due to water or other liquids on the floor.
  • Falls from a height, especially if a plumber is working on a ladder or scaffolding and falls.
  • Being crushed by falling objects or a building collapse.
  • Suffocation, especially due to exposure to toxic chemicals, a gas line leak, or lack of oxygen while working in an enclosed space with poor ventilation.
  • Explosions or sudden bursts of steam, which often cause eye injuries, hearing injuries, or burn injuries.
  • Electrocution caused by coming into contact with a live electrical wire.
  • Power equipment accidents, especially electric power tools, which can cause electrocution injuries or other types of plumbing accidents.
  • Equipment malfunction accidents.
  • Long-term overuse injuries due to performing similar work for months or years, which puts excessive strain on certain muscles or nerves, especially in the hands and arms.

Are self-employed plumbers required to have workers’ compensation insurance in New York?

The answer to this question depends on how many employees work for the self-employed plumber. If a plumber is self-employed and has at least one additional employee (including any full-time or part-time employees), the plumber must have workers’ compensation insurance in New York, according to New York Workers’ Compensation Board regulations, specifically WCL §3 Groups 1-14-A.

However, if a plumber is self-employed and has no employees, the New York Workers’ Compensation Board does not require the plumber to have workers’ compensation insurance since the plumber is classified as a sole proprietor.

Are plumbing accidents covered by workers’ compensation in New York?

It depends. One of the reasons why there isn’t a clear-cut answer is that plumbers often have different working arrangements than many other professions. Instead of working directly for a company, many plumbers are self-employed or hired to work for a company on a contract basis.

For example, if a business hires a plumber to do work for their company (whether it’s for a few hours or a few days) and the plumber sustains an injury while working on a contract basis for that company, the plumber would not be considered an employee of the business that hired the plumber. As a result, that business’ workers’ compensation insurance policy would not cover the plumber’s injury-related expenses.

Can self-employed plumbers receive workers’ compensation in New York?

As briefly explained above, self-employed plumbers without any employees are not required to have workers’ compensation insurance in New York. As a result, such sole proprietors would not be eligible to receive workers’ compensation if they don’t have workers’ compensation insurance.

However, if a self-employed plumber does have a workers’ compensation insurance policy, the injured plumber should be able to receive workers’ compensation benefits in most cases. But just because an injured worker has the right to receive such benefits does not mean they will automatically receive them. Obtaining workers’ compensation benefits for work-related injuries can often be challenging in New York.

Are injured plumbers eligible for any additional financial compensation?

Sometimes, injured plumbers can obtain financial compensation from other sources, especially if someone else caused their injury or the injury occurred due to an unsafe working environment. In such situations, injured plumbers may be able to take legal action against the at-fault party.

However, it’s important to understand that no two work-related injuries or accidents are the same. As a result, the funding options available to injured plumbers with similar injuries can vary widely depending on the circumstances of the plumbing accident. In general, the injured plumber needs to prove that negligence occurred and directly caused the injury.

How can a New York workers’ compensation attorney help?

Plumbing accidents that result in serious injuries often turn into complicated legal cases. This is because many plumbers are self-employed or work at job sites owned by other businesses. Such situations and many other factors can make navigating the claims process complicated.

This is why it’s important for injured plumbers in New York to fully understand their legal rights as soon as possible. Otherwise, they could end up having to pay for their injury-related expenses out of their own pocket.

Our New York workers’ compensation lawyers at Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP can answer your questions and explain your potential legal options. We have decades of experience helping injured workers in New York obtain the compensation they deserve when they need it most.

Learn how our New York law firm can help you. Contact us and schedule an appointment. We have 12 offices conveniently located in New York, including five offices in New York City.

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