Back Injury Compensation for Undocumented Workers
Are you an undocumented worker who suffered a back injury on the job? You may be entitled to compensation from your employer through workers’ compensation benefits. The back injury attorneys at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A. can advise you on your rights and fight for the benefits you deserve regardless of your documentation status.
Back injuries are common in many industries that often employ undocumented workers, including the construction industry. According to the Center for Construction Research and Training, back injuries account for 16.4 percent of nonfatal injuries resulting in days off from work in the construction industry.
Some employers attempt to intimidate undocumented workers into not filing workers’ compensation claims after back injuries, but these workers have rights, and we are here to protect them. We are dedicated to helping all injured workers, regardless of immigration status. We are fluent in English and Spanish. Contact Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A. today to speak with one of our experienced back injury attorneys during a free initial consultation.
Are Undocumented Workers Entitled to Workers’ Compensation Benefits After a Back Injury?
Yes, undocumented workers are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits in North Carolina. In the 1999 case Rivera v. Trapp, the North Carolina Court of Appeals reaffirmed the North Carolina Industrial Commission’s award to Herman Rivera, an undocumented immigrant from Honduras who was working as a roofer when he was injured in a forklift accident. The court determined that North Carolina law includes undocumented immigrants under the protections of the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act. Based on state statute and case law, undocumented workers can receive workers’ comp benefits in North Carolina like any other worker injured on the job.
If you are an undocumented worker injured on the job and your employer is threatening to withhold workers’ comp benefits based on your immigration status, contact a lawyer immediately. Furthermore, your employer’s insurer has no right to ask about your immigration status when filing your claim. You deserve the same benefits as any other injured worker.
What Is Considered a Back Injury?
A back injury is a broad term that could refer to many different injuries.
The back consists of bones, muscles, nerves, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and other soft tissues. The main structure is the spinal column, which comprises 33 bones or vertebrae stacked on one another. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), the spine is divided into four sections:
- Cervical spine– The cervical spine consists of the first seven vertebrae in the neck and connects to the skull.
- Thoracic spine– The thoracic spine consists of 12 vertebrae in the upper back.
- Lumbar spine – The lumbar spine consists of five vertebrae in the lower back.
- Sacrum – The sacrum area includes five sacral vertebrae and the coccyx located at the base of the spine and connects to the pelvis.
The vertebrae are cushioned by intervertebral discs and connected via intervertebral joints and ligaments. Tendons connect the vertebrae to the 40 muscles of the back, 20 on each side. Running up the middle of the spinal column is the spinal cord, a bundle of nerves that sends messages from the brain to the various parts of the body.
A back injury could include any damage, wear, tear, ruptures, or breaks to these various components.
Causes of Back Injuries in the Construction Industry
Construction workers frequently suffer back injuries due to the nature of their jobs and working environment. Common causes of back injuries include the following:
- Falls – According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), just over one-third of the deaths in the construction industry are caused by falls, slips, and trips. Back injuries can occur when a worker slips and falls on an unstable surface or from a height, such as a ladder or scaffolding.
- Lifting, pushing, pulling, or carrying heavy objects– According to Liberty Mutual, overexertion injuries from lifting, pushing, or pulling heavy objects was the second most costly injury among construction workers in one recent year. Back injuries can occur from improper lifting, rapid jerking, or repetitive actions involving heavy objects.
- Repetitive motions– Repetitive motions can result in strains, sprains, nerve damage, and other overuse injuries.
- Twisting or bending in uncomfortable ways or for prolonged periods– Construction workers must often contort their bodies in awkward, uncomfortable ways under sinks, in attics, in crawl spaces, and so on. These contortions can lead to back injuries.
- Strikes from objects– According to the S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 32.8 percent of construction worker injuries resulting in days away from work in one year were caused by contact with an object or equipment. Strikes can come from falling objects or equipment.
- Working with vibrating tools or equipment– According to a study in the Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology, vibration exposure can cause neurosensory symptoms and musculoskeletal disorders. Construction workers utilize vibrating tools and equipment such as drills, jackhammers, nail guns, grinders, compactors, and chainsaws.
Construction Workers Who Are at Higher Risk of Injury
Certain construction workers are at higher risk of injury due to the nature of their jobs, including the following:
- Flooring installers
- Drywall installers
- Jackhammer operators
- Tile installers
Common Back Injuries
Common back injuries among construction workers include:
- Soft tissue injuries– The soft tissues in the back, such as muscles, tendons, and ligaments can suffer small tears or complete ruptures. Sprains occur in ligaments. Strains arise in muscles or tendons.
- Herniated disc– A herniated disc, also called a ruptured or bulging disc, occurs when the jelly-like nucleus of the disc bulges out of the outer shell.
- Intervertebral disc degeneration– The discs that act as cushions between the vertebrae can deteriorate from repetitive trauma, causing pain, spasms, and loss of function.
- Pinched or compressed nerve– Compression on nerves causes pain, numbness, and tingling that may radiate throughout the body. Sciatica is a common form of a pinched nerve that affects the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back through the hips and down each leg.
- Fractured vertebra– A fractured vertebra, or small breaks or compression of one of the spine’s bony vertebrae, can occur anywhere along the spine due to trauma. It can cause pain, tingling, numbness, weakness, and muscle spasms.
- Spinal stenosis– With this condition, the spinal column narrows, putting pressure on nerves and causing pain, numbness, and weakness.
- Spondylolisthesis – This condition occurs when a vertebra slips out of place due to trauma or degeneration and causes muscle spasms, stiffness, pain, numbness, and tingling.
- Chronic lower back pain– Some back pain never seems to go away, no matter the treatment. Construction workers frequently suffer chronic lower back pain, which lasts three months or longer.
Filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim for Your Back Injuries
If you suffered a back injury at work, the North Carolina Industrial Commission advises you to take the following steps:
- Notify your employer immediately– As soon as the injury occurs, notify your employer. If your injury prevents you from personally reporting the accident, ask a colleague, family member, or friend to do so on your behalf.
- Get medical treatment– Seek medical attention as soon as possible. If your employer does not designate an off-site medical care provider, you may see your doctor or go to the hospital. Inform the healthcare professional that your injury is work-related.
- Report your injury to your employer in writing– You must provide written notice within 30 days. Failure to do so could jeopardize your right to workers’ compensation benefits.
- Follow your doctor’s orders– Attend all doctor’s appointments, take all prescription medications, complete physical therapy, and follow all of your doctor’s
- File Form 18– File a Form 18 – Notice of Accident to Employer and Claim of Employee, Representative, or Dependent with the North Carolina Industrial Commission within two years of the date of injury or illness. Retain a copy for your records and give a copy to your employer. This form can also serve as your 30-day written notice of injury to your employer if filed in time.
- Wait for a response – You are entitled to a timely response from your employer or their insurer. If your claim is accepted, you should begin receiving medical and/or wage replacement benefits. You can request a hearing with the North Carolina Industrial Commission if your claim is denied.
Throughout this process, it is essential to have a strong advocate in your corner who will constantly fight for your rights to compensation. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney from our firm can handle the complicated legal aspects of your case on your behalf so you are free to concentrate on your health and recovery.
Get in Touch with Our North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Attorneys
If you suffered a back injury on the job, you might be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits regardless of your immigration status. The workers’ compensation lawyers at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A. have handled claims for many people in positions like yours. Contact our dedicated workers’ comp back injury attorneys today for the personalized attention you deserve. Call us today at (919) 661-9000 for your free, confidential consultation.