Can I Sue My Employer for Chemical Exposure?

suing employer for chemical exposure

If you were injured in a chemical accident on the job, you may have multiple legal remedies in West Virginia, including a personal injury lawsuit and workers’ compensation claim. When exposed to toxic chemicals in factories, processing plants, and mines, workers risk suffering a host of deadly injuries and diseases. Many can sue for compensation if it can be determined that the employer knew about potential hazards and did nothing to protect their employees.

With over 20 years of experience and a proven track record of success in workplace injury claims, our full-service personal injury law firm offers skilled legal representation to workers and their families affected by chemical spills, leaks, explosions, and other forms of exposure. Known for aggressive advocacy and unwavering pursuit of justice, our attorneys have secured millions of dollars in case results for injured workers in Charleston and throughout West Virginia.

Employers Must Keep Workers Safe

Under state and federal law, employers are responsible for ensuring that toxic chemicals are labeled, stored, and handled carefully in the workplace. The Occupational and Safety Administration (OSHA) requires employers to provide necessary safety equipment to protect employees from workplace accidents. Employers must also relay information about hazardous conditions and safety standards to employees and train workers on how to avoid and detect chemical exposure.

“It is declared the policy of this state to require employers to disclose to employees the hazards of exposure in the workplace to hazardous or toxic chemical substances and materials. For this purpose, the commissioner of labor shall establish and maintain, by rule or regulation, a list of chemical substances and materials which have been determined or are suspected to be hazardous or toxic to the health of employees who may be exposed to them in the course of employment.” – West Virginia Code §21-3-18

If you contracted an illness or were injured by chemical exposure on the job, you may be able to hold your employer responsible for those injuries. Workplace personal injury claims are based on fault. In order to recover compensation, you must prove that your employer’s actions, or lack thereof, directly caused your injuries.

What Are the Exceptions?

Though many injured workers are eligible to sue their employers for toxic exposure, there are some restraints. Employees who recover workers’ compensation for workplace injuries are unlikely to have grounds to sue since the employer’s insurer would already be paying the workers’ medical bills and lost wages.

Additionally, according to West Virginia Code § 22-22-20, employers can defend themselves against workplace injury suits when the injury or chemical exposure occurs due to an “act of God,” an act by an unrelated third party, or employee actions taken deliberately against environmental laws and safety protocols. “Acts of God” are natural disasters that trigger the release of toxic chemicals and are not typically considered to be anyone’s individual fault.

Our chemical exposure attorneys can advise you on whether you have grounds to sue your employer for chemical exposure based on these guidelines. Reach out to learn more in a free consultation.

Workers’ Compensation vs. Personal Injury Claims for Chemical Exposure

Both filing a workers’ compensation claim and filing a personal injury lawsuit are potential legal remedies for toxic chemical exposure in the workplace. The method you choose will depend on your unique situation.

In West Virginia, workers’ compensation insurance covers injuries or illnesses caused by on-the-job accidents. Filing a claim for workers’ compensation does not require you to prove that your employer was at fault. However, if you file a workers’ compensation claim, you generally cannot sue your employer for the underlying injury or illness.

That said, West Virginia differs from many other states that entirely prohibit employees from suing their employers for workplace injury. Personal injury claims may be a suitable remedy if the chemical exposure and subsequent injury or illness were caused by the employer’s “deliberate intention.”

More specifically, you may have grounds for a personal injury claim if the situation involved an unsafe working condition that the employer knew about, that violated a safety law or industry standard, and that the employer intentionally exposed you to. With the help of an attorney, you can determine which legal remedy is right for your situation.

Who’s At Risk for Toxic Exposure?

Working in some fields may put employees at a greater risk of toxic exposure. For example, chemical plant workers, mechanics, construction workers, manufacturing workers, electricians, sanitation workers, coal miners, and demolition workers are more likely to experience chemical exposure than other workers. However, toxic exposure can happen anywhere and to anyone.

Interacting with certain chemicals—especially without proper safety equipment and gear—can be detrimental to workers’ health. Toxins like lead, asbestos, gasoline, pesticides, paint, flame retardants, and disinfectants, among other chemicals, put workers at the highest risk for injury or illness. Our team offers skilled legal representation to workers affected by chemical spills, leaks, explosions, and other forms of exposure.

What Injuries Can Workplace Chemical Exposure Cause?

Toxic exposure occurs when foreign chemicals touch or enter the body, causing tissue damage down to the cellular level. An employee can suffer injury from these chemicals via skin contact, breathing in fumes, or accidental ingestion.

Workers exposed to toxic chemicals often experience burns, rashes, throat injuries, lung injuries, nerve damage, and neurological damage. Some symptoms of toxic chemical exposure include headaches, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, diarrhea, pain, a burning sensation in the face, and blurred vision.

Some chemicals in particular, such as asbestos and benzene, are linked to more serious and even fatal conditions. Asbestos exposure can lead to the development of asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. Similarly, benzene, a component in gasoline and crude oil, has been linked to leukemia.

In 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 48 West Virginians died from work injuries, a marked increase from the previous year. Nationwide, nearly 5,500 fatal work injuries occurred in 2022. Exposure to harmful substances or environments caused 15 worker deaths in West Virginia in that year.

If you or a loved one experienced any of these injuries or illnesses due to workplace chemical exposure, you may have grounds for a workers’ compensation or personal injury claim.

How To Prove Chemical Exposure at Work

If you can prove that your injury or illness were caused by chemical exposure on the job, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. As soon as you experience any work-related injury or illness, it’s important to seek medical attention to identify the cause and document your diagnosis.

Also be sure to contact your employer to inform them, preferably in writing. Follow your employer’s procedures for reporting work-related chemical exposure injuries and collect as much evidence as possible related to the incident.

Our workplace accident attorneys can assist with this part of the process. We can also help by collecting evidence, including photos, videos, incident accounts, medical records, pain diaries, and more.

“In the early part of my career, I had a lot of friends that were blue-collar guys. I became very passionate about representing workers exposed to unsafe working conditions. If, unfortunately, you were involved in a work-related injury case, I would strongly encourage you to consider Warner Law Offices.”

Contact Us for Help with Your Chemical Exposure Lawsuit

Consulting with a workplace accident attorney experienced in chemical exposure lawsuits will give your case the best chance of success. At Warner Law Offices, our skilled legal team can guide you through the West Virginia claims process and advise you on the best path toward getting the compensation you deserve.

Contact our Charleston office today at (304) 345-6789 or via our online contact form for a free consultation. We are here to address your questions and concerns regarding your chemical exposure claim.

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Attorney Bobby Warner
Content Reviewed by:
Bobby Warner

Bobby has received many accolades throughout the years from both his peers in the legal community, as well as the media. The National Trial Lawyers association named Bobby a Top 100 Trial Lawyer and he has been selected as a Member of the Nation’s Top One Percent. Additionally, he has been named a Best Attorneys of America by Rue Ratings, which also named Warner Law Offices to its Best Law Firms of America.