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What Is a “Grave Injury”? Understanding Serious Injuries in New York

doctor examining x-rayA New York employer’s liability for on-the-job injuries is generally limited to payment of workers’ compensation benefits. Under New York law, an employee cannot directly sue his employer, with rare exception.

However, if an employee in New York, whether in Clifton Park, Albany or elsewhere, suffers a “grave injury,” the employer could be held liable to indemnify or contribute to the injured party in the context of a “third party” lawsuit. That is, the injured employee should bring a lawsuit against the third-party who caused his or her injury, and the third-party could bring the employer into the lawsuit, to “contribute” to or share liability for the injury and damages.

However, if no “grave injury” has been suffered, the injured worker can only attempt to recover damages for personal injuries from other people or entities that have a connection to the worksite. Commonly, lawsuits arising from construction accidents are ones in which the employer is brought into the case under the “grave injury” exception.

If you’ve been injured on the job and you are interested in pursuing compensation, the first step is to determine whether or not you have suffered a grave injury.

What Constitutes a Grave Injury in New York?

Under New York Workers’ Compensation Law Section 11 “grave injury” means one or more of the following:

  • death;
  • permanent and total loss of use or amputation of an arm, leg, hand or foot;
  • loss of multiple fingers;
  • loss of multiple toes;
  • paraplegia or quadriplegia;
  • total and permanent blindness;
  • total and permanent deafness;
  • loss of nose;
  • loss of ear;
  • permanent and severe facial disfigurement;
  • loss of an index finger; or
  • an acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force resulting in permanent total disability.

Section 11 After Castro v. United Container: Understanding Grave Injuries

The “grave injury” provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Law were addressed by the Court of Appeals in Castro v. United Container Machinery Corp. The Court of Appeals addressed the issue of whether “loss of multiple fingers” could mean just the tips of the fingers. The Court decided that strict interpretation of the statutory language, as required by settled law, mandated their holding that the injury must consist of loss of the “whole” finger, not just a part or tip of the finger. Even losing the tips of multiple fingers was held insufficient to constitute a “grave injury.”

Have you or a loved one been severely injured on the job? Give our experienced legal team a call at (518) 785-4900 for a FREE consult.

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The court in Castro explained that its decision was consistent with the statute’s legislative history. Workers’ Compensation Law Section 11 was intended to limit the number and types of claims by employees, and to thereby limit in turn the effect of Dole v. Dow Chemical Corp., which allowed for claims of contribution and indemnification against employers even if the injury was minimal. The Legislature intended to bring New York in line with other states by providing that workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy for workers injured on the job; and there could be no claims for contribution or indemnification against an employer, unless there was contractual indemnification.

Castro’s impact was far broader than just prohibiting United’s third-party action. The treatment of the phrase “loss of multiple fingers” would also apply to other “grave injuries.” It might come as a surprise that the Court also held the loss of a thumb would not be considered a “grave injury” because a thumb is not considered to be a finger. Additionally, the decision gave some insight into what would constitute “severe” facial disfigurement under the statute.

Seriously Injured on the Job in New York State? We Can Help.

If you or a loved one has suffered a serious personal injury in Saratoga Springs or elsewhere in the Capital District, you may be entitled to compensation. As practicing labor law attorneys with more than 90 years of combined experience, the legal team at Anderson, Moschetti and Taffany understands how to effectively represent clients who have been seriously injured. We will work hard to obtain full compensation for you or a loved one utilizing our decades of experience.

Our serious personal injury lawyers have the knowledge and resources necessary to handle your grave injury case successfully. We’ve received numerous accolades and honors and successfully achieved record setting verdicts and settlements for clients in the past.

Take the first step towards getting the compensation you deserve after being gravely injured on the job in Albany, Saratoga or elsewhere in the Capital District and upstate New York. Contact us for a free case evaluation at (518) 785-4900. Or, complete our easy online contact form to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys.

Related Resources:

Remedies Available for Employees Injured in the Workplace

How to Bring a Personal Injury Claim: A Step By Step Guide

Is an Employer Liable for His Employee’s Negligence Causing a Car Accident and My Injuries?

Editor’s Note: This content was originally published in 2013 but has been updated as of September 2017.

David J. Taffany

About David J. Taffany

Mr. Taffany is an personal injury lawyer and a founding member of Anderson, Moschetti & Taffany, PLLC in Albany. He specializes in all types of personal injury and wrongful death cases, including complex medical malpractice, products liability and labor law. Read More About David J. Taffany »