The United States is one of the top agricultural producers in the world. Over two million farms nationwide cover approximately 895 million U.S. acres. Unfortunately, it also happens to be among the most dangerous occupations in the country and the world.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 368 farmers and other agricultural workers died from work-related injuries in the U.S. in 2020. That same year, 11,880 agricultural work-related injuries were severe enough to require time off work.
If you were injured in a work-related accident due to the negligence of another, you have a legal right to seek compensation for your injuries and other damages incurred. This is true of farm injuries and injuries in any other occupation.
Following a farm injury, it is in your best interest to consult with a personal injury attorney immediately. Your attorney should have extensive experience in farm injury law, a highly specific area of personal injury law. You don’t want to be represented by a lawyer without a deep knowledge of farming and its occupational hazards.
At the Law Office of Calbom & Schwab, our skilled farm injury lawyers will evaluate your case, determine fault, calculate damages, and negotiate for the maximum compensation available to you. Contact one of our Central Washington farm injury attorneys for a free and confidential consultation today.
Who’s at Risk of Farm Injuries?
In 2020, about 2.1 million people were employed in full-time agricultural work in the U.S. All these people are at risk of farm-related injuries and death, but certain workers and tasks carry greater risk.
Although there are many causes of serious injury during farm work, operating a tractor is a leading cause of farm-related deaths. In fact, tractor rollovers cause approximately 90 deaths in the U.S. annually.
Over one million young people (under the age of 20) live on farms, and more than half are engaged in farm work. These young people, and older farmworkers (over age 55), have the highest risk of work-related fatalities.
Penn State researchers recently conducted a study of U.S. emergency room admissions to determine the true number of nationwide agricultural injuries. Their research showed that more than 60,000 people sought emergency treatment for agricultural injuries during the five-year period between January 1, 2015, and December 31, 2019, and nearly one-third of those patients were minors.
One agricultural and biological engineering professor involved in the Penn State study noted his surprise and concern over the sheer number of farm-related injuries and the high number of youths who were injured:
“Small farms are family-oriented businesses, and often they have all their family members helping out. And the kids who are helping out or visiting the farm are exposed to hazards that they may not understand or know how to react to. They’re not mature enough to foresee hazardous situations. And that leads to injuries or worse, in some cases, fatalities.”
Common Causes of Farm Injuries
Due to the nature of farm work, the risk of injury encompasses almost every aspect of the occupation. Farming typically involves working in the elements, using heavy machinery, and chemical exposure. The most common causes of agricultural work injuries include:
- Tractor rollovers and other tractor accidents.
- Defective or dangerous equipment.
- Exposure to pesticides and other toxic chemicals.
- Grain auger accidents.
- Hay baler accidents.
- Combine accidents.
- Getting crushed by or caught in between heavy machinery.
- Chemical explosions.
- Animal-related accidents.
- Heat exhaustion.
These common causes of farm injuries can lead to fractures, loss of limbs, traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), burns, loss of eyesight, blunt trauma, and wrongful death. Fortunately, all these injuries can be easily prevented using well-maintained equipment, education, adequate supervision, and proper safety precautions.
How to Prevent Serious Injuries in Agricultural Work
Although farm work is inherently risky, most serious injuries and deaths can be prevented through awareness of hazards and adherence to safety standards. Some simple tips for reducing your risk of serious injury or death in a farming accident include:
- Wearing seat belts when operating tractors and forklifts.
- Preventing tractor overturn injury and death by installing a Roll-Over Protective Structure (ROPS) on all tractors. Used with a seatbelt, a ROPS dramatically reduces the risk of serious injury and death.
- Being aware of fences, power lines, and other hazards when driving a tractor.
- Removing keys from tractors, forklifts, and other farm equipment when not in use.
- Educating children on hazardous aspects of farm equipment and farming.
- Assigning only age-appropriate tasks to children.
- Not allowing young children to ride on farm equipment, even with you.
- Never letting anyone ride on hitches or fenders.
- Ensuring all equipment is well maintained and regularly inspected.
- Never wearing loose clothing around machinery.
- Installing proper fencing around open water and manure pits.
- Ensuring all floors, steps, and machinery platforms are kept clear of snow, ice, mud, tools, debris, and manure.
- Labeling all containers clearly and accurately.
- Employing the buddy system when entering high-risk areas, such as grain bins.
- Ensuring all workers are equipped with personal protective gear.
- Ensuring all workers are properly trained and supervised.
- Keeping gas containers away from open flames.
- Being kind and respectful toward farm animals and familiarizing yourself with their behavior so you can anticipate their actions.
- Avoiding working in severe conditions, such as extreme heat, in the dark, or during a storm.
- Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.
- Wearing sunscreen and reapplying frequently.
Following the tips above, you can dramatically reduce your risk of being seriously injured or killed in a farm accident. If your family works with you on the farm or you employ outside workers, these safety tips will also protect them. If you have been injured in a farm accident, seek immediate legal counsel from a Central Washington farm injury attorney today.
Statute of Limitations on Farm Injury Cases in Washington State
As with other personal injury cases in Washington, the time frame to pursue a claim in a farm injury case is three years from the date of the accident. This time limit may be extended if the injury wasn’t discovered until a later date, if the injured person is a child, or if the victim was incapacitated for a period of time after the accident.
This three-year time limit, known as the statute of limitations, may be reduced in certain situations, such as if a municipal entity operates the farm. Even if you are afforded the full three-year window, it is in your best interest to seek legal action as soon as possible.
Waiting weeks, months, or years to file a claim can make it difficult to gather important evidence and remember critical details. Waiting too long can also make the court question the severity of your injuries. The sooner you consult with a farm injury lawyer, the better positioned you will be to obtain full compensation in a timely manner. If you fail to file a claim within the allotted time frame, your ability to recover damages will likely be lost forever.
Common Damages in a Central Washington Farm Accident Case
The amount of compensation you are entitled to will depend largely on the type and severity of your injuries, as well as the unique circumstances of your case. Common damages in farm injury cases include:
- Medical bills, current and future.
- Lost income.
- Future lost earnings.
- Alternative transportation costs.
- Travel expenses.
- Burial expenses.
- The deceased’s medical bills (in wrongful death cases).
- Emotional pain and suffering.
- Mental anguish.
- Disability or disfigurement.
- Loss of consortium.
- Loss of companionship.
Serious farm injuries can have verdicts and settlements ranging from hundreds to tens of millions of dollars. If you have been injured in a farm accident, it is in your best interest to seek immediate legal counsel from an experienced farm injury attorney.
You can even recover damages in a farm accident case if you were partially responsible for the accident. Under Washington law, “any contributory fault chargeable to the claimant diminishes proportionately the amount awarded as compensatory damages for an injury attributable to the claimant’s contributory fault, but does not bar recovery.”
In layperson’s terms, this means the amount of an injury victim’s financial recovery will be reduced by their determined percentage of fault. For example, if Jim is 20 percent responsible for a tractor rollover accident in which he was badly injured, his $1 million award will be reduced by $200 thousand (or 20 percent of the total award), and he will receive $800 thousand.
Am I Eligible for Workers’ Compensation if I Was Injured in a Farm Accident?
Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance coverage that provides medical care and some financial benefits (including a percentage of lost wages) to injured workers. In exchange for accepting these benefits, the worker agrees not to sue the employer.
In most states, agricultural occupations are exempted from workers’ compensation laws, meaning employers are not legally required to carry workers’ comp coverage. Washington is not one of those states. In Washington and 13 other states, employers are required to carry full workers’ comp coverage for agricultural workers, with no exceptions to this rule.
If you have been injured while performing agricultural work in Washington State, you are likely entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. If negligence played a role in your injuries, you might also be entitled to additional compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, emotional pain and suffering, and other associated expenses. Although you should always report any injury to your employer, do not assume that applying for workers’ comp is the best choice in your unique situation. A Washington State workers’ comp attorney can review your case and help you determine how to proceed.
How a Central Washington Farm Injury Lawyer Can Help
If you are injured in a work-related accident on a farm, you can either file a claim for workers’ compensation or bring a lawsuit against the owners of the farm company or farmland if they are separate individuals or entities. Step one is to seek legal representation from a Central Washington personal injury attorney with experience in farm accident cases.
Following a serious farm accident, the only thing you should focus on is healing. At the Law Office of Calbom & Schwab, our knowledgeable farm injury team will fight skillfully and aggressively to protect your rights and get you the compensation you deserve. We will:
- Review your case, determine fault, calculate damages, gather relevant evidence, and position you for the best possible outcome.
- Ensure you fully understand your legal rights and options.
- Conduct a thorough accident investigation.
- Gather critical evidence, including medical records, police reports, pay stubs, and photos of injuries.
- Call on expert witnesses.
- Negotiate with the insurance company for the maximum settlement. When a reasonable settlement is not offered, we will fight for your rights in court.
Our attorneys will also provide unbiased, unemotional advice rooted in your best interests. Following a serious injury, it isn’t easy to think clearly. Let us handle the difficult decisions and negotiations so you can focus on healing and getting your life back on track.
Contact the Law Office of Calbom & Schwab Today
If you have been harmed in any type of farming or agricultural accident, the skilled legal team at the Law Office of Calbom & Schwab can help. We have been protecting the rights of farm and agricultural workers throughout Central Washington for decades, and we have an impressive track record of obtaining substantial settlements for our clients. Do not attempt to navigate this complex area of the law without skilled legal representation by your side. Contact the Law Office of Calbom & Schwab today for a free and confidential consultation about your case.