31st March 2020 | Sand Law, PLLC
Worker’s Compensation for North Dakota Oilfield Injuries
Working in the oil and gas industry can be dangerous. The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes oil and gas under the broad category of “mining.” Oil and gas-related accidents account for over 70% of fatal accidents within the entire mining industry, and the fatality rate for the oil and gas industry is over seven times higher than the nation-wide average—over 24 deaths per 100,000 workers annually.
During the height of the Bakken oil boom, North Dakota had the highest rate of workplace fatalities in the country, according to a study by the AFL-CIO. The rise in fatal accidents in North Dakota is largely due to the expansion of oil drilling operations, as well as the associated construction and transportation needs. Unfortunately, the high fatality rate has not diminished even as the drilling boom tapered off. As recently as 2015, death rates on the oil fields were actually rising. Industry analysts and U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) officials note that falling crude oil prices may have driven oil companies to hire less experienced contractors, relax safety training and standards, and push workers to work in unsafe conditions. High turnover, long shifts, and the difficulty of coordinating work between multiple contractors on-site simultaneously all contribute to the workplace hazards.
In addition to fatal accidents, thousands of workers in North Dakota are injured in work-related accidents each year. One emergency room doctor in Watford City reports that he is seeing twice as many traumatic injuries every day as he used to see in a month.
There are two main ways to recover compensation for your injuries. That is through a worker’s compensation claim and/or a third-party liability claim. Both are discussed below:
Worker’s Compensation for Oil Field Injuries
On-the-job injuries are complicated by the laws governing workers’ compensation. In North Dakota, compensation for all work-related injuries is administered by North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance (WSI), a state fund with a Director appointed by the governor and staffed by state employees. WSI receives all of its funding from employers in the state. North Dakota is one of only four states in the U.S. with an exclusive state workers’ compensation fund, and this system carries some additional complications.
Intended to provide a quick and easy solution for workers injured on the job, the WSI program does provide effective assistance for many employees. However, like any “catch-all” solution, WSI does not always meet an injured worker’s needs. WSI covers “reasonable and necessary” medical treatment and is responsible for lost wages. In simple cases, with relatively minor injuries and brief time away from work, this system can work well. In more complex cases, receiving adequate compensation from WSI can be a nightmare. This is especially the case when an injury prevents a worker from returning to his or her previous position. Many workers can return to work, but are not able to resume their exact role, or must work with limitations on lifting or standing. These restrictions can result in reduced earning potential in addition to the wages lost during time off. Calculating the full extent of these damages can be difficult, and WSI, working with the employer, often cuts off benefits long before the injured worker has been fairly compensated.
An often-overlooked remedy in workplace injury situations is what the law refers to as “third-party liability.” Third-party liability is triggered when another party, other than the employee or employer, is involved in the accident. In the oil field, these are generally independent contractors or third-party servicers.
Third-Party Liability for North Dakota Oil Field Injuries
The reason third-party liability is important to understand is that worker’s compensation only covers a portion of an injured party’s medical bill and lost wages. However, WSI does not cover general damages such as pain and suffering, disfigurement, or mental anguish. These remedies are however available through a third-party liability negligence claim.
Unlike worker’s compensation claims that are run through WSI, third-party liability claims are brought in state court. This is generally through a negligence action in which the injured party needs to show that the third-party had a duty to behave in a reasonably safe manner, that they breached that duty, that the injured party actually suffered an injury or “damages”, and that the third party was responsible in whole or in part for those injuries.
Common North Dakota Oil Field Injuries
Traumatic Brain Injuries
Oil field workers are typically expected to wear the appropriate head protection while on site but there are many instances where this is simply not enough to prevent severe traumatic brain injuries. Traumatic brain injuries are when a person experiences a severe blow to the head or violent jerking movement that causes damage to the brain. This damage not only can endanger someone’s life when it is severe enough but can also result in debilitating symptoms in even milder cases. Cognitive ability is usually affected when there is brain damage leading to a number of issues that can affect someone’s quality of life. Common traumatic brain injuries experienced by oil field workers include concussions, brain contusions, and penetrating brain injuries.
Oil field workers are exposed to many vectors of harm that can lead to blows to the back and by extension, the spine. Vehicle accidents, machinery accidents, etc. can deliver severe trauma to the back and inflict damage to the spine. Spinal cord injuries can be especially debilitating since they affect sensory functions and can even result in partial or total paralysis. The spinal cord can suffer damage if the vertebrae that surround it is fractured, dislocated, or even just places too much pressure on it. Spinal cord damage can also have a low chance of recovery leading to permanent health issues a victim must contend with for the rest of their life.
The workers on oil fields are exposed to a number of dangerous and flammable chemicals and gases that can easily ignite if one wrong move is made. This can lead to severe third-degree burns which are considered the worst kind you can receive. Third-degree burns burn the tissue past the layers of skin that make up the epidermis and destroy the tissue beneath. This can sometimes affect organs and generally lead to significant disfiguration.
Seek an Experienced North Dakota Personal Injury Attorney
Sand Law’s experienced personal injury attorneys can help you receive the compensation that you deserve if you are injured in an accident. North Dakota’s unique “single-payer” or “exclusive” workers’ compensation fund system presents challenges to fair injury compensation, but Sand Law has a proven record of cutting through red. We offer consultations for no cost. Contact us today to find out how we may be able to help you fully recover from an injury.
Offices in Williston, Watford City, Minot, and Bismarck.