Tractors are essential pieces of farming equipment, but they are also inherently dangerous for many reasons. Even modern tractors lack many of the safety features included in conventional passenger vehicles because tractors are not meant for road travel. These vehicles exist for a specific purpose, and anyone who operates a tractor must understand the risks of agricultural industry accidents and how to avoid the most common tractor accidents.
Whenever a tractor accident occurs, the victim can face significant injuries that may result in permanent damage or even death. Whether you own an agricultural business or work on a farm, knowing the risks of a tractor accident is one of the best ways to limit your own exposure to dangerous situations.
Understanding Tractor Safety
Operating a tractor is very different from driving a conventional passenger vehicle. Though both vehicles feature similar mechanical systems, they work very differently and operate in very different conditions. No one should attempt to operate a tractor without understanding these key differences.
Tractors may be smaller than most passenger vehicles, but they are still very heavy. They also have larger wheels and lack the maneuverability of most other vehicles. A tractor’s center of gravity is also different from a standard vehicle, and this can sometimes mean a tractor is more susceptible to sudden shifts in momentum and instability caused by uneven ground.
Tractor operators should carefully review a tractor’s operation manual before using a tractor, and it’s wise to perform a pre-operation safety check before using any tractor. Proper safety training and practical experience are vital to limiting the risk of a tractor accident.
Perhaps the most dangerous type of tractor accident a person can experience is a rollover accident. As the name suggests, this type of accident occurs when the tractor rolls over on its side. This may occur due to a sudden change in the slope of the earth, turning too sharply, or failure to navigate sloping terrain at a safe speed.
When a tractor rollover accident occurs, the operator and anyone near the tractor is at the greatest risk of injury. While modern tractors feature rollover safety features like rollover protection structures and seatbelts, these features are not always enough to guarantee that a tractor rollover accident won’t result in serious injuries.
A rollover accident can cause extreme injuries, including:
- Traumatic brain injuries. The operator could suffer a severe blow to the head from the impact of the tractor rolling over and hitting the ground on its side. Traumatic brain injuries may only result in mild symptoms that subside within a few weeks, while more severe injuries can require immediate medical attention to save the victim’s life. Some traumatic brain injuries can cause permanent cognitive impairment, difficulty in processing language, sensory processing problems, and motor function impairment. It is also common for traumatic brain injury victims to experience severe headaches and migraines, confusion, loss of spatial awareness, and other disruptive symptoms that can persist for months or even years following their injuries.
- Spinal injuries. The spinal cord that extends from the brain through the spinal column carries signals between the brain and the rest of the body. Any injury to the spinal column can cause permanent loss of sensation or loss of motor function to different parts of the body. Spinal injuries can occur when a tractor operator falls from the tractor during a rollover accident or if the tractor falls on top of someone else. Spinal injuries are capable of causing loss of sensation, loss of motor function, or both, including complete paralysis that leaves the victim unable to live independently in the future.
- Crushing injuries. Tractors come in many sizes, but any tractor is capable of causing severe crushing injuries when it falls on top of a person. Crushing injuries may result in shattered bones that may require surgical correction, and crushed limbs may require amputation. These are some of the most traumatic injuries a person can suffer and carry a very high chance of causing permanent medical complications.
- Lacerations. Deep cuts are possible when a rollover accident results in broken glass, twisted metal, or damaged plastic. Some deep cuts can cause nerve damage and interfere with the victim’s ability to work, sometimes permanently.
- Electrocutions. Tractors with attached equipment have electrical currents running between the tractor and the attached machinery. Contact with any part of the power takeoff system of a tractor can not only result in severe physical injuries but also poses a high risk of electric shock. Electrocution can be fatal. When victims survive, they can experience nerve damage, burns, and even cardiovascular impairment.
- Broken bones. The sudden impact of a tractor rollover accident can cause bones to break. Some bone fractures may require a few months of healing time, while others can be more severe. For example, a compound fracture that breaks the skin will likely require surgical correction and may expose the victim to infection.
- Fire and chemical injuries. When a tractor rolls over, the vehicle’s underlying systems may sustain damage and cause fuel or other chemicals to leak and potentially catch fire. It is not uncommon for victims of tractor rollover accidents to suffer burn injuries or toxic exposure to certain vehicle chemicals.
Any of these rollover accident injuries can be extremely painful and carry the potential to impose lasting medical complications on the victim.
Whenever someone is run over by any vehicle, there is a very high chance of death. Tractors of any kind are capable of inflicting severe or fatal injuries in a runover accident. Additionally, a partial runover, such as a tractor’s wheel crushing a farm worker’s hand or leg, can be extremely devastating.
Vigilance is imperative for preventing tractor runover accidents. Anyone operating a tractor must be fully aware of their surroundings at all times. If a tractor operator must traverse overgrown or uneven terrain, they should move slowly and carefully in case other farmhands are nearby. Runover accidents can potentially cause many of the same injuries as a rollover accident. Still, there is a much higher risk of death for the victim, considering the weight of most tractors.
It’s possible for tractor runover accidents to result in traumatic brain injury, spinal injury, broken bones, and crushing injuries with a generally higher risk of death for the victim. Additionally, runover accidents are also highly dangerous because of the risk of becoming trapped under the tractor due to uneven ground, further increasing the risk of a fatality in this type of tractor accident.
Outdated Tractor Failures
Tractors exist for a specific purpose and have a crucial place in the modern agricultural industry. This means that tractor use is heavily regulated in the United States. It is crucial for any tractor owner who uses their tractor for work purposes to understand and follow applicable regulations at all times. Many farmers do their best to keep their farm equipment safe and functional for as long as possible. Tractors are generally quite expensive, so it is impractical to replace these vehicles as often as some people replace their passenger cars.
However, an outdated tractor will likely lack the safety features that newer tractors include. For example, an older tractor may not have any rollover protection structures or other safety features found in modern tractors. Ultimately, older tractors are far more likely to cause catastrophic accidents than newer tractors. Anyone who owns and operates an older tractor must understand these risks and take appropriate precautions to prevent injuries and fatal accidents from outdated tractors’ lack of safety features and a higher chance of experiencing mechanical failures.
Power Takeoff Injuries
The power takeoff is the electrical system that connects a tractor to another piece of equipment, such as a rotary tiller, tractor rake, backhoe, or tractor box blade. Some of these pieces of equipment are essential for harvesting crops and preparing the earth for planting season. All tractor operators who must use such equipment need to know how the power takeoff system works and how to avoid serious injuries.
Most tractors will have a power takeoff stub that rotates at high speeds as the tractor supplies power to the attached piece of equipment. This rotating shaft can cause severe injuries if an operator becomes entangled with the power takeoff system in any way. For example, all farm workers should wear snug-fitting clothing and keep long hair tucked inside of a hat or head covering. Clothes and hair pose the greatest risk of power takeoff entanglement injuries. If someone becomes severely stuck in a power takeoff structure and cannot cut the power to free themselves, they could potentially experience severe injuries to various parts of the body. Some of these injuries can result in permanent disabilities.
Another risk of a power takeoff system is the risk of electric shock. Even experienced tractor operators who are familiar with attaching and detaching equipment from tractors may experience electric shocks if there is an unseen issue with an element of the power takeoff system. No tractor operator should ever use a tractor with an attached piece of equipment if the power transfer stub is uncovered. If the protective tube that encases the power transfer shaft breaks or comes loose, it is vital to repair or replace it before continuing use of the equipment.
Injuries from Equipment Attached to a Tractor
The power transfer system is just one potential source of serious injury when a tractor has another piece of equipment attached. When using a rotary tiller, harvesting rake, backhoe, or other attached equipment, the tractor operator and everyone in the tractor’s work area should be very careful to avoid contact with attached equipment. Many tractor attachments have sharp blades, moving parts, and heavy fixtures that are capable of causing catastrophic injuries. No one should attempt to operate a tractor with an attached piece of equipment unless they fully understand how the attached equipment functions and how to use it safely.
Your Legal Options After a Tractor Accident
In the event you or a loved one experience an injury from a tractor accident, it’s crucial to take immediate action to ensure your physical health and safety as well as securing legal counsel in the event you need to file any type of claim for compensation. Typically, the first avenue of compensation open to the victim of a tractor accident is a workers’ compensation claim. The workers’ compensation system allows anyone injured at work to file a claim and secure medical treatment for their injury. In the event a workplace injury prevents the victim from working. At the same time, they recover, the workers’ compensation system may award them weekly benefits until they reach maximum medical recovery and are able to return to work.
The workers’ compensation system is notoriously complicated, and an injured worker can find it very challenging to navigate this process while also dealing with the aftermath of their injury. It’s wise to hire an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to assist in this process. Your attorney can help you with your initial claim, address any potential pushback from the state workers’ compensation board, and handle any retaliation you might experience from your employer.
Unfortunately, workers’ compensation benefits may not be enough to fully compensate the victim of a tractor accident. At this point, it’s essential for the victim to consult their attorney and determine whether negligence contributed to or directly caused their accident. If so, it is possible to file a civil claim for damages against the party responsible for causing the tractor accident.
Taking Legal Action for a Tractor Accident
The victim of a tractor accident can potentially have several options for legal recovery depending on how the accident occurred and the severity of their injuries. A tractor accident victim’s first priority after any tractor accident should be their personal health and safety, so it’s essential for the victim to seek medical care immediately even if they believe their injuries are relatively mild. Failure to seek prompt treatment can easily complicate a future workers’ compensation claim or civil claim against a negligent party. If the state workers’ compensation board or the court determines that the victim did not seek immediate medical care, they will likely assume their injuries were not as severe as they claimed.
A workers’ compensation claim is typically the first option for recovering from the financial impact of a tractor accident, but it may not be the only option available. An experienced attorney can help their client file their workers’ compensation claim and determine whether further legal action is necessary for a more complete recovery:
- The victim of a tractor accident can file a personal injury claim against another party if that party’s negligence caused their accident. For example, if a tractor operator was driving a tractor under the influence of alcohol and ran over the victim, this is clearly negligence as well as illegal. The offender will likely face criminal charges and lose their job in addition to absorbing civil liability for the victim’s damages.
- In the event a tractor accident occurs because of defective equipment, the manufacturer of the defective equipment can absorb liability for the victim’s damages. The victim must file a product liability claim that proves the equipment in question was defective in a way that directly caused their tractor accident.
- If the owner of a tractor or the victim’s supervisor compelled them to operate an unsafe tractor or operate a tractor in an unsafe manner, it’s possible for the responsible party to absorb liability for the victim’s damages.
- When a tractor accident causes a death, the victim’s family can work with an experienced wrongful death attorney to determine which party or parties are responsible for the death. Wrongful death claims involve many of the same legal processes and damages as personal injury claims. Still, there are unique legal statutes that apply to wrongful death claims filed in response to fatal injuries in the workplace.
Ultimately, it is crucial for any victim of a tractor accident to prepare to file a workers’ compensation claim. Still, they should understand this will likely only amount to one aspect of their recovery effort.
How Can an Attorney Help?
Tractor accidents can cause severe or even fatal injuries, and victims must understand their legal rights if they want the best chance of securing maximum compensation for their damages. An experienced attorney can help their client narrow down their best available options for legal recourse, guide them through their initial workers’ compensation claim process, and help them explore their available options for further recovery.
An experienced attorney can help their victim with the procedural requirements of their case, connect them to support services that can be invaluable after a serious injury, and ultimately help them maximize their recovery. Your attorney will likely uncover channels of compensation that you may not have recognized and are capable of gathering the evidence and documentation necessary for increasing the amount of recovery you obtain from each available channel.
Seeking legal representation as soon as possible after a tractor accident provides the best chance for the victim to navigate the complex legal proceedings they likely face, both from the worker’s compensation system and the further legal action their attorney recommends. If you or a loved one experienced a tractor accident and you are unsure how to handle the situation, contact an experienced agriculture accident attorney as soon as possible so you can approach the situation with greater confidence.