Already this spring, parts of the state have seen temperatures rise into the 80’s. While those days have been few and far between, it is a reminder that soon high temps will be the norm. While air conditioning has made it so that thousands can be both comfortable and safe during extremely hot weather, the fact is that many workers are expected to continue working, even if it puts their health and life in danger.
The United Parcel Service (UPS) learned how important keeping workers cool is the hard way, after they lost a wrongful death lawsuit and were forced to pay several million in damages.
Extreme Heat Triggers Heart Condition
On the day of his death, a 24-year-old man who had been hired as a supervisor was working in a warehouse that did not have air conditioning. He had recently been placed on light duty because he had suffered from a recent cardiac event.
In his youth, he had been diagnosed with a congenital cardiac block which doctors treated with several heart surgeries, even installing a pacemaker. After his latest cardiac issue, he had notified his employer of his restrictions.
Sadly, even though he was supposed to be working light duty, he was assigned to supervise this particular warehouse, which was baking in the hot sun. Not long into his shift, he notified coworkers that he felt dizzy and needed to take a break, however, before he took that break, he collapsed. He was rushed to the hospital where doctors determined he was having a heart attack. Sadly, they were unable to save his life and he later died.
Workers’ Comp Claim Denied
His fiancee and the mother of his son filed a workers’ comp claim in order to obtain death benefits, however, the claim was denied because the insurance company said that it was his pre-existing heart condition that caused his heart attack, not the heat in the building.
She then pursued a lawsuit against UPS, alleging that the company was negligent because they assigned him to work in extreme conditions despite the fact that he had told them of his health concerns. Additionally, she also said they were negligent because they failed to install air conditioning, proper ventilation, establish a rest schedule, and monitor their employees for heat exhaustion.
The matter went before a jury who determined that the company was in fact at fault. They awarded the deceased’s son and fiancee $1.5 million for medical expenses, lost wages and benefits, and funeral costs. They also awarded them an additional $1 million in punitive damages.
Punitive Damages: What Are They?
While not frequently awarded, whenever a defendant is found to have behaved in a particularly malicious or willfully negligent way, punitive damages may be awarded. The point is to really drive the point home that the defendant made a mistake and to encourage them to not make the same mistake again in the future.
Occupational Heat Exposure
The fact of the matter is that in each one of the thousands of cases where a worker suffers from heat exposure, their injuries and illnesses could have been prevented if the appropriate steps had been taken.
Heat-Related Injuries & Illnesses
The most common medical conditions caused by heat exposure include:
- Heat exhaustion
- Heat stroke
- Heat cramps
- Heat rash
Each of these conditions may result in the need for hospitalization and medical care which often means that the worker ends up with thousands of dollars in medical bills that should be covered by workers compensation – but often aren’t.
If, like in the above case, the worker dies from their injuries, death benefits should also be available through workers compensation. Sadly, nearly 50% of all claims are denied outright and the process of filing an appeal is complicated, stressful, and time-consuming.
The best way to ensure that the worker or their loved ones get the compensation that is so desperately needed is to contact an attorney as soon as possible.