Injured at work: Can you sue for damages?
The question is simple, and it is asked every day by injured workers across the country. Yet the answer is not always straightforward. Depending on your occupation, the circumstances of your injury, and the insurance provided by your employer, you might be able to pursue damages through workers’ compensation, a personal injury lawsuit, both, or neither.
Injured Employees Covered by Workers’ Compensation
In most states, most employers must purchase workers’ compensation insurance policies that cover their eligible employees. Each state has its own set of rules for determining what employees must be covered. Overall, if you are an official employee who works regularly, then you probably have some sort of workers’ compensation coverage.
If you get injured while you are covered by a workers’ compensation insurance policy provided by your employer, then you should be able to use that policy to collect benefits that help you recover. Benefits made available through workers’ compensation policies will pay for necessary medical treatments and, if you are unable to work for an extended amount of time, a portion of your average weekly wages until you can work again.
Workers’ compensation programs are also based on a no-fault system. You could have caused your own workplace accident due to a mistake and still be eligible to receive your owed benefits. However, there is a caveat: In most situations, if you receive workers’ compensation benefits, then you cannot file an injury claim against your employer, too.
Injured Independent Contractors & Other Workers
Not all workers get covered by workers’ compensation insurance, though. Independent contractors typically do not have many employment benefits, including workers’ comp coverage, for example. What happens if you were hurt while working but do not have workers’ compensation there to pay for your medical bills and lost wages?
In such a situation, your only option might be to file a personal injury lawsuit against your employer and any parties that caused your injury. A personal injury claim is a fault-based system, so you will need to prove that you are not liable or mostly liable for your work injury. There are different types of evidence that can help establish liability, such as medical records that show when you were hurt, safety reports from your employer that show that safety inspections were few and far between, and testimonies from coworkers.
An unexpected benefit of filing a personal injury claim instead of a workers’ compensation claim is that you could stand to collect substantially more at the end of an injury claim. Workers’ comp benefits are intentionally limited, but a successful civil claim can reward you fully for medical bills, all lost wages, and even non-economic damages related to your pain and suffering. Of course, there is also the downside that the added damages are not guaranteed, and you will have to go head-to-head with an insurance company to get them.
When Can You File & Sue?
There are also times when an injured worker can file for workers’ compensation and file a personal injury claim. From a legal and recovery standpoint, such a situation might be considered optimal because you can get some benefits without a fight – those provided through workers’ comp – and pursue additional damages if you want. For example, a personal injury claim could provide you with the missing wages that workers’ compensation does not.
You probably will only find yourself in this unique situation if you are considered an employee and your work injury was caused by egregious negligence or the actions of a third party. Most commonly, the latter is the reason why an injured employee can file for workers’ comp and sue for more damages.
Here are some examples:
- Negligent or Inadequate Security: Imagine if an angry customer assaulted you without provocation. You should be able to get workers’ compensation because you were hurt while performing a work duty. You could also file a claim against the customer who attacked you, and there might be a chance to sue your employer for inadequate security.
- Intentional Injury: Another example in which you could sue your employer is if you were intentionally injured. If you can prove that your employer injured you intentionally, it is possible that you could seek full compensation.
Use an Attorney to Sort the Details
Knowing your legal options after being in a workplace accident is not likely to be easy. Your employer and their insurer might blur the details of your workers’ compensation coverage in order to avoid paying for your medical treatments. Or you might have not workers’ comp coverage and no understanding of the liability laws that would allow you to file a personal injury claim.
When the details are unclear, or you just do not have the time, resources, and energy to pursue a claim on your own, you should reach out to an attorney as soon as possible. With a lawyer’s help, you can figure out if you should be filing for workers’ compensation and/or filing a personal injury claim.
Injured workers in Thousand Oaks can count on Law Offices of Delitala, Inc. for legal representation and guidance. Our background as a workers’ comp and personal injury law firm allows us to effectively handle your case, regardless of what sort of claim you should file. Dial (888) 676-0125 now to request a free consultation.