Teachers and On the Job Injuries
There's More to the Job Than Meets the Eye
Teachers can make a big difference in the life of their students. With that responsibility comes many intangible rewards. But the profession also presents many challenges, including students who behave badly, unhealthy classroom environments, "out of touch" school administrators, unhappy parents and too few hours in a day to get the job done to their own high standards.
We have been representing teachers for more than three decades and have seen those challenges faced by educators escalate to such a degree that too often their lives are at risk. Consider some of these issues they face:
- Toxic exposure
- Hostile work environment
- Violence on and around campus
The legal system is designed to help level the playing field, but justice for injured teachers can be a hard-won battle.
Teachers and Toxic Exposure
When it comes to toxins at school, there are warning signs of toxic contamination, such as:
- Fumes and foul odors
- Moisture damage
- Patches of mold and musty smells
- Vermin, pests and insects
- Excessive dust or dirt
There are three main ways a toxin can enter the body: ingestion (swallowing), skin or eye absorption and inhalation (breathing it in). The health effects can be acute (immediate) or chronic (long term).
Such exposure can cause any of the following:
- Severe headaches and blurry vision
- Frequent bloody noses
- Persistent skin rashes
- Loss of memory and drifting mental focus
- Stomach cramps and nausea
- Ear, nose and throat irritations
- Muscle spasms and numbers
- Depression anxiety or difficulty sleeping
- Fertility problems or birth defects
- Cancer or another catastrophic illness
Sorting out the signs and symptoms of toxic exposure can be a difficult task. Often times, the most severe effects, such as cancer and birth defects, occur years after exposure. Therefore, it is vital that those who are injured or become ill due to toxic exposure in the workplace are represented by an experienced Workers’ Compensation attorney.
And, if the exposure is the responsibility of someone other than the employer, the recovery for such a work-related injury or illness can be maximized. An example of such a third-party case would be teachers becoming ill when a factory adjacent to the school spews toxic substances into the neighborhood, and, thus, the campus. In such a case, an experienced Workers’ Compensation attorney would work in tandem with a knowledgeable Personal Injury attorney to ensure that the teachers who suffered from such exposure receive the full range of benefits to which they are entitled through the Workers’ Compensation system and civil court.
Teachers and Acts of ViolenceTeachers may have signed up for the job knowing that it would require them to perform all types of roles, but most teachers didn’t enter such a noble profession thinking they would be the victims of violence. Sadly, however, violence against teachers is not only on the rise, but it has reached the level of a “national crisis” by many experts.
And, the statistics bear this out: according to a survey published by the American Psychological Association, 80 percent of teachers questioned were victimized at least once in the current school year or the prior year. Educators in Los Angeles report being victims of assaults, shootings, lockdowns, stabbings, property damage, threats of injury and, even, death. Perpetrators include students, parents and members of community.
Teachers and Job-Induced Stress
Stress is one of the most common causes of workplace injuries in schools. It makes sense when you consider that teachers must play many roles:
- Security guard
- Role model
Stress among teachers can be caused by a variety of things, including:
- Hostile work environment
- Overcrowded classrooms
- Aging schools
- Shortage of materials
- Little time between classes to prepare, plan or recover
- Poor ergonomics
- Lack of administrative support
- Discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or age
In order to successfully claim injury due to stress in the Workers’ Compensation system the following criteria must be met:
- Work stresses must be the predominant cause of the injured worker’s problem.
- The stress cannot arise out of a “good faith personnel action.”
- The injured worker must have been on the job at least six months.
It is important to keep in mind that such a stress claim doesn’t have to be the result of a specific event. There is also cumulative trauma, which can include high blood pressure, sleep disturbances and gastrointestinal issues.
Because the Workers’ Compensation system is constantly changing, it is imperative for anyone who is hurt at work to be represented by an experienced, knowledgeable Workers’ Compensation attorney.
From Our Files
- A teacher with pre-existing spinal and psychological conditions was subjected to long-term verbal threats from a student, with little support from the administration. The court doctor concluded that stress aggravated both conditions. The teacher was awarded:
- Medical cost reimbursement
- Temporary disability
- Future/lifetime medical treatment and medications
- A substantial permanent disability award
- In 2008, a student brought a hand grenade to school. The police locked down the classroom. The teacher suffered a legally accepted stress-related injury.
- A gay teacher was the victim of hate crimes, including being punched by a student. The teacher, who had not revealed his sexual orientation to students or others at the school, suffered a legally accepted stress-related injury.
- Noxious smells from a truck-cleaning company next to Del Amo Elementary school caused the following symptoms among teachers: muscle spasms, numbness, blurred vision, difficulty sleeping, drifting mental focus, blurry vision, frequent sore throats and coughing, stomach cramps, nausea and fatigue. Claimants were awarded temporary disability, permanent disability and future industrial medical care.
- At Edgewood Academy, toilets in a building were not connected to a sewer line, causing human waste to build up under a portable classroom that resulted in the building decomposing and emitting toxic chemicals into the air. Medical complaints ranged from diarrhea and cramps to miscarriages and children with birth defects. Claimants were awarded temporary disability, permanent disability and future industrial medical care.
Keep in mind that because Workers’ Compensation is a no-fault system, an injured worker is not suing his or her employer, but rather making a claim for benefits. And, because each claim is different, with many variables involved, results cannot be guaranteed.