Hoarding is a symptom of mental illness that involves “compulsive purchasing, acquiring, searching, and saving of items that have little or no value,” as explained by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. It’s also the subject of two popular television series, one entitled “Hoarders” on A&E TV and the other, “Hoarding: Buried Alive,” on TLC.
News this week is that several people working in a Houston, Texas, home for a future episode of the TLC series, on the job to help a hoarder clean out their mess became very ill and one was so overcome that she was hospitalized. That’s right: she got so sick from being inside the hoarder’s home that she had to be admitted to a hospital care facility. It was also a concern for a period of time that the woman had been exposed to the toxic hantavirus (read our post on how this hantavirus epidemic is spreading from Yellowstone National Park.)
Fortunately, the woman did not test positive for hantavirus, even though she is ill and did have many of the hantavirus symptoms: fever, struggling to breathe, etc. However, this news story does provide lessons to all of us about how any one of us can leave home to go to work and while on the job, become seriously ill or suffer a severe injury or even die a wrongful death all because of something that happened at the job site.
Workers are to be protected from harm on the job and employers are under a legal duty to make sure that working conditions are safe. Regarding the hoarding television shows, it is unclear who the employers are – is it the cleaning company that is contracted to come inside the hoarding home to clean? Is it the therapist? Is it the home owner/hoarder? Is it the television production company? Is it all of them?
Workers Compensation and Third Party Claims (and Lawsuits)
State law provides for “workers’ compensation” and there are set procedures under Illinois and Indiana statutes for employees to get coverage from their employer’s workers’ compensation insurance policies for their injuries on the job. However, when other people or companies may be responsible for the harm that has occurred to the person working on the job, then “third party” claims may be available outside the worker’s compensation statutes.
In third-party claims for injuries that happen while working on the job, lawsuits are filed against those parties who were not the victim’s employer but whose negligence may have caused the event to happen, or whose negligence may have contributed to the injury occurring. These third party claims can be vital to someone who has been seriously injured, since workers’ compensation programs are notorious for not providing enough money to pay for all the losses — things like future lost income or rehabilitation expenses may not be covered by workers’ compensation but may be covered by third party claims.
It’s not always clear who the employer is in the injury case, nor is it always clear who may share responsibility for the injuries, as the Hoarding TV show injuries news story demonstrates. Lots of factors come into play and state law will define things like duty and breach of duty and causation.
At first glance, some work accidents may be so complicated regarding duty and fault and cause that the scenario seems as legally entangled as any hoarder’s house. These are issues that can be difficult to determine.
It’s something that even experienced personal injury attorneys sometimes have to sort out, and it’s always a good idea to seek legal counsel in any kind of personal injury on the job – even if you’re assured that workers’ compensation has you covered.