When You Should Sue Outside of Workers’ Compensation
Workers’ compensation is a type of workers’ insurance that aims at compensating workers for work-related illnesses or injuries. If you are injured while working, you may receive money and benefits from worker’s compensation, but you do not have the leeway to bring a lawsuit outside of the workers’ compensation plan – you may have the opportunity to sue the employer under exceptional circumstances.
Permanent disability and temporary disability payments received under workers’ compensation programs are generally low and do not include compensation for pain and suffering. Additionally, Workers’ compensation does not include punitive damages that penalize the employer for dangerous conditions and inadequate safety regulations. It is, therefore, critical for workers to be aware of their right to sue for compensation outside of the workers’ compensation scheme.
Basic Principles of Workers’ Compensation
The law requires employers to purchase insurance coverage to pay for employees’ expenses if the workers suffer from injuries in the course of executing job-related tasks. The benefits include medical care, temporary & permanent disability benefits, rehabilitation, retraining, and death benefits.
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system, meaning that as an injured employee, you receive payment regardless of who is to blame for the injuries. In return, you cannot sue your employer for extra damages such as pain and suffering. The objective is to fairly compensate you and mitigate economic loss arising from the injuries.
Your employer cannot forbid you from claiming workers’ compensation. It is also illegal for your employer to imply termination or any negative actions for filing a compensation claim. If the employer penalizes you for filing your claim, the retaliation forms a basis for you to file a lawsuit based on discrimination.
Exceptions to the Rule
Generally, workers’ compensation covers most workers and work-related injuries fully. However, there are some exceptions where you may not qualify to receive benefits. Workers’ compensation does not include injuries that do not occur in the course of work-related activities or at the workplace. You cannot get compensation for injuries sustained when the employer had not approved your actions because you were drunk or intoxicated. Also, self-inflicted injuries or injuries arising from illegal activities or violating company policies may be excluded. It is essential to consult a Workers Compensation Attorney because compensation for such injuries is often a matter of legal details.
The category of workers also forms a basis for exclusion from workers’ compensation. Employees in private homes, volunteers, independent contractors, business owners, and farm, railroad, and maritime workers are not eligible for workers’ compensation. These categories of workers are compensated in other ways.
Although workers’ compensation protects employers from being sued by their employees, there are a few exceptions. You may sue manufacturers for injuries caused by defective products or toxic substances, or sue third parties who caused your injuries. It is also possible to sue the employer for damages arising from the employer’s conduct. In addition to these lawsuits, you may obtain additional benefits from the government, for example, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if the injuries prevent the employee from working.
An employer who has a small number of workers may be legally allowed to operate without workers’ compensation insurance. In such a case, you can only get compensation through a tort action provided that a coworker or the employer was negligent and caused the injuries.
When you suffer from work-related injuries, the general rule is that you cannot receive workers’ compensation benefits and sue the employer for the same incident or injuries. In a workers’ compensation claim, apportioning blame is not necessary. However, if you sue the employer, you must prove the employer’s fault. It is critical that you assess the two options and choose the one that will get you the fairest compensation.
When the Employer Has Not Purchased Workers’ Compensation Insurance
Most employers across all states are required to purchase workers’ compensation insurance. The insurance can either be through the employer’s self-insured program or a third party carrier. The minimum number of employees required for coverage varies from state to state.
If your employer does not have insurance, you can file a personal injury lawsuit against the employer in a civil court. The right to sue allows you to receive more benefits than what workers’ compensation offers. You can claim damages above the arbitrary legal cap that limits the amount and the length of time that you can receive benefits. You can also receive damages for pain and suffering (emotional distress) and punitive damages, intended to penalize your employer if they caused you injuries due to misconduct. Pain and suffering and punitive damages are not available in workers’ compensation.
However, personal injury claims have a downside. You must prove that employer negligence caused the injuries. Also, you only get compensation if and when you win the lawsuit and reach an agreement, which can be a lengthy process spanning months or years. A Workers Compensation Attorney can help you file your lawsuit within the correct time frame and handle the technicalities on your behalf.
Some states such as California provide workers’ compensation from Uninsured Employers’ Funds. In such states, you can either sue the employer or claim workers’ compensation. The workers’ compensation will cover your medical expenses and part of your lost wages. Some states also provide temporary disability insurance to cover short-term benefits for the period you are not working. The workers’ compensation office in your state can assist you in filing your claim.
When Your Employer Hurts You Deliberately
In most states, you can sue outside of workers’ compensation if your employers’ intentional behavior caused your injuries. However, different courts apply different standards when determining the types of actions that count. You must prove that your employer intended and deliberately acted to hurt you.
In Arizona, your employer must have personally and intentionally acted with a specific aim to injure you, for example, in cases of physical assault. In Louisiana, the concept of “intentional act” applies where your employer acted in a way that was “substantially certain” to cause injuries. Some states allow you to file a lawsuit in a case where your employer was aware that a hazardous situation could cause harm, but they deliberately chose not to correct it. In Florida, you can sue your employer if they intentionally hid the danger and prevented you from taking safety precautions.
The exception of “intentional act” is almost always applied to employers but not to coworkers or supervisors. However, there are variations. In Idaho, you can sue your employer if they deliberately induced or authorized other workers to injure you by being physically aggressive without provocation. You will receive compensation if you can prove your case.
When Toxic Substances Cause Your Injuries
Sometimes workers use toxic chemicals and substances that result in severe illnesses and injuries. Such elements include chromium compounds, asbestos, radium, benzene, and silica, but any harmful material can be a basis for a lawsuit.
Toxic injuries are classified into two categories. Acute injuries, such as poisoning and chemical burns, are instantly evident. Latent injuries such as lung diseases and cancers take years to manifest and are more complicated, but not impossible to prove. There are many successful lawsuits brought by workers years after the workers were exposed to toxins, especially lawsuits involving mesothelioma or asbestosis.
If you suffer from injuries due to toxic substances, you can sue the producer of the material and manufacturers of the safety gear that was ineffective while you were exposed to the poisonous substance. It is essential that you contact an attorney, especially if time has elapsed between the exposure and the illness or injury. Even if your injury occurred recently, a lawyer could help you to get the most beneficial settlement.
When Defective Products Cause You Injuries
If you get injuries from equipment or machinery that is defective or inherently risky, the manufacturer of the machine or equipment can be liable for your injury if they were aware of the danger, but they did not warn you. The manufacturer will have to compensate you for medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages.
For example, if a machine malfunctions in the course of your employment duties and causes injuries, you can collect workers’ compensation from your employer and still file a product liability lawsuit against the product manufacturer. You can complain to OSHA, especially if your employer still requires other employees to use the machinery.
When a Third Party Causes You Injures
Sometimes, work-related injuries may not be caused by the employer, a substance, or a machine but by another person. If negligent or intentional conduct of a third party caused your injuries, you could sue the person for damages. For example, if you are driving to a job site and another driver hits your car, you can sue that driver for damages. The driver’s insurance may compensate you without a lawsuit.
Other exceptions apply to the rules governing workers’ compensation depending on your area of residence. Some states allow you to sue your employer for injuries from violation of civil rights such as discrimination or sexual harassment. In California and Pennsylvania, you can sue your employer for aggravating your illness or injury by lying about work conditions. In Texas, you can file a lawsuit if an employee died due to an intentional act, omission, or gross negligence by the employer.
Suing any party outside of workers’ compensation is complicated because proving “intentional act” by your employer or a third party is not easy. It is especially challenging to demonstrate that your employer was aware that their actions would cause you harm. If you are certain that your injuries were as a result of your employer’s actions, you can talk to a Workers Compensation Attorney about the available legal options. Your lawyer will examine the specifics of your case and help you to get fair compensation.