News recently broke that a zookeeper working at a zoo and aquarium in Nebraska was hospitalized after suffering a bite from a juvenile Komodo dragon, a carnivorous lizard with poisonous venom. Despite earlier reports the woman was critically inured, she was treated, released and expected to recover fully.
A spokeswoman for the zoo later reported the worker had a wound on her hand that required stitches. While adult Komodo dragons can weigh up to 300 pounds, reach 10 feet in length and run for short bursts up to 11 mph, this was one was young and relatively small: Only about 4 feet long and weighing just 10 pounds.
At the time of the incident, the zoo worker was reportedly caring for the animal while it was in its cage.
Although zoo keeping is a relatively unconventional job, there are many occupations wherein workers may come in contact with wild or even captive animals that could pose a threat of a workplace injury or illness. This is particularly true now that we are in the swing of summer, and outdoor projects that are neglected during the colder months receive a higher priority.
Everyone from landscapers to veterinarians to realtors may be at risk.Even those who work indoors may suffer an animal-related injury, most commonly from insects and rodents and sometimes snakes. Whether such an incident will be compensable depends on the underlying circumstances.
Not much research has been conducted about the risks animals pose at work, but a 2000 study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed animals to be a fairly significant occupational hazard, with the risk depending on whether key components of a person’s job depended on animal interaction.
Between 1992 and 1997, there were approximately 1,200 nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses related to birds, mostly in agriculture and poultry manufacturing industries. Some aviation-related hazards were reported as well. Fish, meanwhile, were associated with 2,500 nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses, with manufacturing accounting for most of these cases. Insects, meanwhile, caused 42 fatalities during those time frame, with 39 of those cases resulting from venomous bee, wasp or hornet stings to those who were allergic. Non-fatal insect and arachnid-inflicted occupational illnesses and injuries during that time frame numbered 36,100.
Dogs, meanwhile, accounted for eight occupational fatalities and 13,800 nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses. Cats were not associated with any deaths, but were cited in 4,600 nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses.
Finally, cattle account for more fatal workplace injuries than any other, with 141 deaths accounting for two-thirds of the 375 animal-related work-deaths during the study period and nearly half of the deaths associated with mammals.
Obtaining compensation for these injuries depends on the circumstances. Courts have ruled that workers toiling outside or those who work closely with animals can reasonably be expected to suffer animal-related injuries, and bites, scratches, bruises and other injuries and illnesses stemming from these encounters are almost always covered. They are considered a reasonable risk of employment.
Similarly compensable would be injuries stemming from bites or illnesses related to dirty work environments, where pests were a known but unaddressed problem.
If you have a question about whether an injurious animal encounter at work is compensable, contact our experienced legal team.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Komodo Dragon Attacks Omaha Zookeeper, June 1, 2015, By Manthan Chhed HNGN
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