Nevada law excludes farm workers, including people in dairy, stock, and poultry industries, from the state’s mandatory workers’ compensation system. NRS 616A.110(4). This means that farm workers do not enjoy automatic, no-fault protection in the event they are injured on the job. But agricultural work is one of the most dangerous professions in the country, leading to questions about how an injured worker can recover compensation.
Personal injury lawsuits against agricultural employers
A major benefit for employers in the workers’ compensation system is that it provides the exclusive remedy for employees who are injured at work. Because farm laborers are outside the system, they are not limited by the exclusivity clause, meaning they can potentially file a personal injury lawsuit. If a worker is killed, his or her family may be able to pursue a wrongful death claim.
A personal injury lawsuit likely will hinge on whether the employer acted negligently. To be actionable, the negligent behavior must have violated a legal duty owed to the worker and needs to have been the legal (or proximate) cause of the worker’s injury. The kinds of legal duties that can support a negligence claim vary based on the facts of the situation. For example, an employer that also owns or manages the property where the work is conducted may owe its workers an obligation to keep the premises reasonably safe. Where a given job involves known risks, an employer should be taking reasonable steps to manage those risks.
There are at least two significant problems for farm workers who wish to pursue a personal injury claim. The first is that lawsuits take time. Until a case settles or gets decided in court, the worker bears all the costs of treatment for the injury. The second problem is that plenty of injuries in agricultural work happen not because of negligence but simply because the work itself is dangerous. A ladder tipping over or a cow’s kick may be independent of any action on the part of the employer. In each case, having the advice of an experienced personal injury attorney can be invaluable.
OSHA and agriculture
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), 29 U.S.C. 15 et seq., requires every employer in the United States with at least 15 employees to ensure that the work environment is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to [their] employees.” 29 U.S.C. 654. This so-called “general duty clause” requires employers to take reasonable steps to address hazardous conditions. These steps might include providing appropriate safety equipment and training, ensuring that machinery is properly maintained, and making sure that dangers like deep holes or exposed electrical wires are not left unmarked.
In addition to the general duty clause, a number of specific OSHA standards apply to agricultural operations. For example, employers with 11 or more hand-laborers in the field must provide toilets, potable drinking water, and hand washing facilities in the field at no cost to the workers. There are also special rules governing roll-over bars on tractors.
An employer who fails to comply with OSHA requirements can be subject to administrative fines by state and federal enforcement agencies. The law protects workers who bring complaints against retaliation by employers. Unfortunately, OSHA does not provide a private cause of action, meaning a worker cannot directly sue an employer for violating OSHA standards. Crane v. Conoco, Inc., 41 F.3d 547, 553 (9th Cir. 1994).
GGRM is here to answer your questions
The personal injury attorneys at GGRM have served the Las Vegas community for over 45 years. If you have questions about legal options following an injury at work, our attorneys will be happy to answer your questions. For a free attorney consultation call us today at 702-388-4476 or send us a request on our contact page.