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Workers’ Comp 101: What’s the Difference Between an Accident and an Incident?

Posted by Robert T. Karns | Jun 09, 2021 | 0 Comments

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If you're considering filing a workers' compensation claim, knowing more about how things work can make your claim go more smoothly. Today, we're going to cover a topic that doesn't get much attention: The difference between an accident and an incident, and how it might affect your claim.

Incidents Are Less Serious Than Accidents

You may hear the words “incident” and “accident” used interchangeably in everyday conversation because the two are close to being synonyms. However, in the world of workplace mishaps, the two terms have different meanings.

An “incident” is any unexpected event that does not result in serious losses or injury; an “accident” is an unexpected event that causes damage, injury, or harm. Therefore, while a mistake that causes property damage—for instance, maybe a machine ends up broken—might be accidental, HR wouldn't refer to it as an “accident” in an official report. Because workplaces are judged on how safe they are, most companies are eager to downplay how serious these unexpected events are.

The official terminology can get a little confusing, but it is important to use the right language in your claim. You do not want to undersell the severity of your damages by using the word “incident” instead of “accident.”

What Are My Rights After an Incident vs. an Accident?

As an employee, you always have the right to a workplace free of hazards. That means both incidents and accidents are a fair cause for concern. Incidents often have the potential for worker injury or may even be a “near miss” where someone almost sustains serious harm. Therefore, if you witness an incident or accident in the workplace, you are fully within your rights to report it to your management and/or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Leadership should investigate what happened and take steps to ensure the same problem will not come up again.

At the same time, management may use incorrect terminology to save face. They may write up a report for an “incident” that was actually an “accident.” Regardless of the terminology HR or anyone else in leadership uses, you almost always have the right to file a workers' compensation claim if you were hurt in your workplace and/or on the job. If you need medical treatment because of a workplace injury, don't let your employer talk you out of filing for workers' compensation so they can sweep everything under the rug. Ask an attorney for help bringing a claim—and potentially defending yourself against attempted retaliation.

We Can Help You Prepare for a Successful Workers' Comp Claim

Though almost every employee in the state of Rhode Island is guaranteed workers' compensation insurance, having coverage is not the same as receiving the help you need if you've been hurt. Seemingly insignificant details, like the words you use to describe what happened, can be used against you by an insurer or employer that does not want to pay your claim. We stand against this type of unfair treatment and do our best to fight for injured workers.

Our experienced attorneys at Karns & Kerrison can answer your questions about what to expect during a workers' compensation claim. We can take the lead on your case, so you can spend time recovering. You deserve help and support as you try to find your way forward after a work accident. Our team has the experience, skill, and resources to provide comprehensive assistance.

Call Karns & Kerrison at (888) 281-3100 to schedule a free consultation with one of our workers' compensation attorneys. We are here for you.

About the Author

Robert T. Karns

Founding Attorney


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