Colorado Workers’ Compensation for Landscapers
Learn about your right to workers’ comp benefits after a landscaping injury in Colorado
Colorado has nearly 14,000 landscaping businesses, employing more than 32,500 workers, and these companies aren’t just getting by—they’re thriving. In fact, in 2020, Colorado ranked among the top states for landscape companies, being 1 of only 5 states in the U.S. with 4 or more companies making the Lawn & Landscape Top 100 list.
While the landscaping industry in Colorado is clearly flourishing, providing workers with numerous employment opportunities, it also comes with inherent job hazards that pose serious risks. From heavy machinery to chemical exposure to extreme weather conditions, landscape workers are exposed to various dangers that can result in catastrophic injuries and even death.
Fortunately, affected workers may be entitled to workers’ compensation, which provides employees and their families with benefits for medical expenses, lost wages and more. This article will help you determine if you’re eligible for these benefits and explain the steps for filing a claim in Colorado.
Just how dangerous are landscaping jobs?
Landscaping is an extremely dangerous job. It’s so dangerous, in fact, that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently put out a news release urging employers in the landscaping industry to prioritize employee safety due to a rise in work-related fatalities and hazards.
According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 234 landscape workers died from work-related injuries in 2021 alone. The causes of fatalities among these workers include:
- Transportation accidents: 70 deaths
- Slip-and-fall accidents: 67 deaths
- Contact with objects or equipment: 53 deaths
- Exposure to harmful substances or environments: 38 deaths
- Other: 6 deaths
Did you know?
Young and newly hired landscape workers have the highest risk of injury, with 50% of serious injuries occurring among workers 34 years or younger, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Additionally, about 46% to 55% of all serious injuries happened during a worker’s first year on the job, with 22% to 30% occurring during the first 3 months.
What are the risks of being a landscaper?
Landscapers face a variety of risks and injuries, depending on their job duties on any given day. Some of the most common injuries include the following:
- Overexertion injuries. Often resulting from lifting heavy objects, repetitive motions or long hours of strenuous work, overexertion can lead to back strains, sprains, and other musculoskeletal disorders.
- Repetitive stress injuries. The nature of landscaping work often involves repetitive activities, such as continuous raking, digging or pruning. Over time, this can lead to stress injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis or other musculoskeletal issues in the wrists, elbows and shoulders.
- Slip-and-fall injuries. Whether from a height, like a tree or ladder, or on level ground due to slipping or tripping, falls are a significant hazard. Poor footing, inadequate safety equipment, or inattention can contribute to fall-related injuries, like brain injuries, back injuries and broken bones.
- Chemical exposure. Handling and breathing in fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals without proper protective gear can lead to respiratory issues, skin irritation or poisoning.
- Heat-related illnesses. Extended exposure to high temperatures while working outdoors can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which can be severe if not promptly addressed.
- Burns. Landscapers may work with hot equipment or substances, leading to burns. This can happen due to equipment malfunction or carelessness while handling hot materials.
- Hearing loss. Unless appropriate personal protective equipment is provided to and utilized by workers, the use of saws, lawn mowers and other noisy equipment can lead to occupational hearing loss over time.
- Electrical injuries. Contact with underground or overhead electrical lines during digging or tree trimming can result in electrocution or severe burns.
- Injuries from animals and insects. Encounters with venomous snakes, stinging insects, or other aggressive animals can result in bites or stings that require medical attention.
- Struck-by injuries. Workers can be struck by vehicles, heavy machinery, falling objects, such as tree branches or flying debris from machinery like lawnmowers or chainsaws. These incidents can result in fractures, head injuries, spinal cord injuries and even fatalities.
- Cuts and lacerations. The frequent use of sharp tools like shears, pruners and chainsaws makes cuts and lacerations common. Poor technique, a momentary lapse in attention or defective equipment can result in serious wounds.
- Hand and foot injuries. Due to the heavy and sometimes precarious handling of tools and machinery, landscapers are at risk for injuries to the hands and feet, including crush injuries, sprains, fractures, and even amputations.
Being aware of these common injuries and their causes can help both employers and workers take necessary precautions to mitigate these risks.
Colorado landscaper sues Xcel Energy after electrocution accident left him paralyzed
In 2017, a Colorado landscaping worker, Francisco Cuevas, was seriously injured while hanging Christmas lights near power lines owned by Xcel Energy. Cuevas fell and was paralyzed after receiving a debilitating shock from the lines. He sued both the homeowner and Xcel Energy, claiming they should have been aware of the hazardous proximity of the tree to the power lines.
Xcel Energy attempted to evade responsibility, pointing to the High Voltage Safety Act and its own terms and conditions, which usually protect it from liability for “injury to persons.” However, in July 2023, Colorado’s appellate court ruled that Cuevas could indeed sue Xcel, as the responsibility to notify under the High Voltage Safety Act lay with Cuevas’ company, not Cuevas himself. Additionally, the court clarified that Xcel’s immunity doesn’t extend to all members of the public, narrowing the scope of the utility’s protection from lawsuits.
This case illustrates the complexity of liability in work-related injuries and underscores the importance of workers’ compensation coverage. Had Cuevas’s injuries been deemed solely a result of his work, workers’ comp could have been the primary route for him to seek financial help for his medical bills and lost wages. But because another party (Xcel Energy) was potentially at fault, Cuevas was able to pursue additional legal action against it.
Do Colorado landscapers qualify for workers’ comp benefits after an injury?
In Colorado, most businesses with 1 or more employees are required to provide workers’ comp insurance to their workers. To be eligible for these benefits, you must be classified as an employee (not an independent contractor), and your injury or illness must have occurred within the “course and scope of your employment.” This means it must have happened while you were performing your designated job duties or as a direct result of your work environment.
Workers’ compensation is a form of “no-fault” insurance. This means that in most cases, eligible employees qualify for these benefits even if they caused the accident that led to their work-related injury or illness.
What does Colorado workers’ comp cover?
Colorado workers’ compensation provides certain benefits for a broad spectrum of work-related injuries and illnesses, making it an essential safety net for employees in various industries, including landscaping.
Covered injuries include those that result from sudden, unexpected events like vehicle accidents or falling objects. However, workers’ comp isn’t limited to just one-time accidents. It also includes occupational diseases and illnesses that develop over an extended period of time, like certain cancers, hearing loss and carpal tunnel syndrome. These are often due to prolonged exposure to hazardous materials or environments or harsh working conditions.
Potential benefits for these work-related injuries and illnesses include the following:
- Medical benefits. Workers’ comp will cover all the necessary medical treatments, surgeries, medications, and rehabilitation services required to treat a work-related injury or illness.
- Lost wage benefits. If the injury or illness results in the employee being unable to work, workers’ comp will also provide a percentage of the employee’s lost wages (typically two-thirds) to help them sustain themselves financially during their recovery period.
- Death benefits. In unfortunate cases where a work-related injury or illness results in the death of an employee, workers’ comp will offer death benefits, generally to the spouse or dependents of the deceased. These benefits can cover funeral expenses and provide some financial stability to the grieving family.
A variety of compensation benefits are available to injured Colorado workers. The Babcock Law Firm examines which injuries are and are not covered under workers’ comp.
How do I file a workers’ comp claim after an injury in Colorado?
Filing a workers’ compensation claim in Colorado involves several key steps and responsibilities for both the employee and the employer’s insurance carrier:
- Report the injury. Notify your employer about the injury as soon as possible. You typically have up to 10 days to do so, but it’s best to act immediately.
- Seek medical treatment. Consult a health care provider for diagnosis and treatment. Make sure to inform them that the injury is work-related so that they can properly document it. Except for emergencies, you’ll be required to see a provider chosen by your employer.
- Employer’s notifies insurer. After you notify your employer, they have the responsibility to inform their insurance carrier about your injury within 10 days.
- Insurer files First Report of Injury (FROI). If your injury leads to more than 3 days or shifts of lost time, results in permanent impairment, or in the case of death, the insurance carrier must file an FROI with the Division of Workers’ Compensation (DOWC) within 10 days.
- Claim decision is made. The insurance carrier must then either approve or deny your claim within 20 days of filing the FROI. If your claim is denied, you have the right to appeal the decision, but you should contact a work injury attorney to help you with the process to ensure the best chance of success.
Can I sue my employer for an unsafe work environment that led to my injury?
In most cases, workers’ compensation is considered an “exclusive remedy,” which means that you generally cannot sue your employer for workplace injuries or illnesses covered by workers’ compensation.
By providing workers’ comp benefits, employers are usually shielded from personal injury lawsuits brought by their employees for work-related injuries. This is intended to balance the needs of workers, who receive prompt medical treatment and other benefits, and employers, who get the certainty of avoiding potentially costly and protracted litigation.
However, there are some exceptional circumstances where you might be able to sue your employer:
- Intentional acts. If your employer intentionally caused your injury, you might be able to file a personal injury lawsuit. This is a high standard to meet and requires evidence that the employer acted with the direct intention of causing harm.
- Inadequate workers’ comp insurance. If your employer fails to carry workers’ compensation insurance, or the insurance doesn’t cover your type of injury, you may be able to sue your employer in civil court.
However, you may also be able to file a civil lawsuit if a third party (someone other than your employer) is responsible for your injury. For example, if you were injured by a defective piece of equipment, you might be able to sue the manufacturer of that equipment. Another example is if you’re driving for work purposes and another driver causes a car accident that results in your injury; in that case, you could potentially sue the other driver.
Keep in mind that if you receive workers’ compensation benefits and also recover damages from a third-party lawsuit, your employer’s insurance company may have a “lien” on the recovery. This means that you might have to reimburse the insurance company for the benefits you received.
Because the laws and circumstances can vary widely, it’s advisable to consult with an attorney experienced in workers’ compensation and personal injury law to explore all your options.
Did you suffer a serious injury while working as a landscaper? Get help from an experienced Colorado work injury attorney.
If you or a family member suffered a serious injury or fatality while working as a landscaper in Colorado, contact The Babcock Law Firm. Our experienced Denver work injury attorneys have extensive experience fighting for the rights of injured workers in Denver, helping them recover maximum compensation for their injuries. Let us handle the negotiations with your employer’s insurance company so you can focus on your recovery.
Contact us today to get started by scheduling a free consultation.
Four Colorado-based landscape companies make the Top 100. (n.d.). www.alcc.com. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from https://www.alcc.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1377:four-colorado-based-landscape-companies-make-the-top-100&catid=35:news&Itemid=172
IBISWorld – Industry Market Research, Reports, and Statistics. (n.d.). www.ibisworld.com. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from https://www.ibisworld.com/us/industry/colorado/landscaping-services/14402/
Landscaping industry: leading companies by U.S. state 2020. (n.d.). Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/900202/states-with-the-most-landscaping-companies-united-states/
TABLE A-1. Fatal occupational injuries by industry and event or exposure, all United States, 2021 : U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (n.d.). www.bls.gov. https://www.bls.gov/iif/fatal-injuries-tables/fatal-occupational-injuries-table-a-1-2021.htm
US Department of Labor urges landscaping industry employers to stay focused on protecting employees from hazards as demands increase | Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (2023). Osha.gov. https://www.osha.gov/news/newsreleases/national/06122023#:~:text=From%202011%2D2021%2C%20the%20Bureau
Workers’ Compensation Data Sheds Light on Hazards in Landscaping | Blogs | CDC. (n.d.). https://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2021/08/10/landscaping-wc/