Airport Ramp, Runway and Terminal Injuries: Is There Always Workers Compensation Coverage?

Repetitive trauma & cumulative injury cases are often excluded under the Virginia Workers Compensation Act, even though the employee’s disability is directly related to their airport or airline job!

Injuries to the workers who lift heavy baggage, haul gas lines, and repair jets using bulking equipment all seem to be the kinds of accidents that would be covered under any Worker’s Compensation law. However, in jurisdictions like Virginia, if the injury is cumulative, or due to repetitive trauma, then it is NOT covered under the Virginia Workers Compensation Act.

What that means is, the injured ramp worker, runway signal operator and luggage sorter will not receive any payments for: lost wages, medical bills, permanent impairment, medications, transportation, etc. They will have to put their medical care bills under their own personal health insurance (if they have it). Even in instances where the employer is causing them to rush, or there may be a violation of a safety protocol on the Air Operations Area (“AOA”), the injured worker still gets nothing. The Virginia Worker’s Compensation law prevents injured employees from suing their employer for accidental injuries in the course and scope of their jobs.

While an injured airport or airline worker does not have have an ambulance or fire truck pick them up on the AOA, if there is prompt reporting of a workplace injury, then workers compensation coverage will be less likely to be denied for “late reporting,” “cumulative trauma,” or other attacks on compensability under the Virginia Workers Comp laws.

It is often difficult to determine when exactly an injury to an Airport worker’s back, neck, shoulder or spine occurred if they do not report the injury right away. Virginia’s strict law holds that unless it happens at a particular time, on a particular suitcase, or while pulling a particular hose, or catching a specific falling object, that it may not be covered as a “compensable event.” This leads to some very unfair outcomes according to experienced Virginia and DC airport injury lawyer Doug Landau.

For example, if a luggage tug operator feels some pain while lifting a heavy duffel bag at 11 AM, and then a little bit more pain at noon pushing a large roller bag, then takes aspirin during their lunch break, and then really feels pain coming on lifting several soldiers’ rucksacks and rushing them onto several small jets, even if they report their back pain and go to the Emergency Room after their shift, and they are diagnosed with a herniated disc in their lumbar spine, they would probably lose the case, because they would not be able to prove which of those three or more events was the “cause” of their disabling condition.
On the other hand, if an airport refueling truck operator, while pulling a hose in the morning, notices some tightness in their back, but is able to continue to do their full duty work, but then after lunch break at 2:30, pulls another hose and feels a searing pain down their back, through their buttock and leg, and into their foot, and reports that immediately, that would clearly seem to be “a compensable injury by accident.” The fuel truck operator’s injury would likely be covered by the Virginia Workers Compensation Commission, and they would receive payment for their: lost wages, their medical bills would be covered with no deductible or co-pays, they might receive payments for permanent impairment, as well as reimbursement for their mileage to medical appointments, prescriptions, and durable medical equipment.
What frequently happens is the insurance company for the airport, airline, or contractor, takes a tape recorded statement from the injured worker. They will be very friendly, assuring that they are there to help. They start asking questions in such a way that it seems more like either cumulative trauma or a repetitive injury, so that they can deny the claim and pay no benefits. They will ask questions like:
  • • Have you ever had back pain before?
  • • Have you ever taken an aspirin or Aleve because of back pain or soreness?
  • • You were doing what you usually did all day?
  • • There was no blood or broken bones sticking through your uniform, true?
  • • There were no witnesses to your accident?
  • • You finished your normal shift?
  • • You clocked out, per standard operating procedure?
  • • Heavy work is what you do, isn’t it?
  • • Some of the bags / tools / equipment you use every day weighs a lot, doesn’t it?
  • • Aches and pains are part of the job, aren’t they?
  • • You’ve seen an Orthopedic doctor / chiropractor / your family doctor for this, haven’t you?
Airport and airline employees who are injured in the course of their work, are almost always contacted by well-trained insurance adjusters who seek to get a Tate or written statement that they can then use against the disabled employee in order to deny them their Worker’s Compensation benefits.

The insurance adjusters will lull the injured worker into a false sense of security. The injured employee is usually in pain and/or on strong medications, and does not see the danger. After the insurance company agent has wrapped up the tape statement, they tend to stop being so nice, because they know they can use this evidence at a Worker’s Compensation hearing, against the disabled employee.

So, what should an injured airport worker or their family members do after getting hurt? First, they should not give any taped or written statement until they speak with experienced legal counsel. They should get competent medical help. And they should preserve the evidence showing the when, where, how, and why of their injury at the airport. This is because the insurance company will try to show that was a pre-existing condition, a cumulative trauma injury, or a combination of causes that arose outside of a specific event on the Air Operations Area.

If you or someone you know or care for has been injured as the result of an accident on the job while working at an airport or for an airline, and there are questions about what laws apply, please give us a call or text (703-796-9555) or email us at Abrams Landau, Ltd.