In most cases, employees cannot sue their employers if they were injured at work. They can file a workers’ compensation claim and request an appeal if it is denied, but the law typically bars workers from filing civil lawsuits against their employers. However, like most things law-related, there are a few caveats to this law.
If you’re injured at work, one of your first thoughts is typically, “what am I going to do about my job?” This is especially true if the injury you sustained keeps you from returning to the job you are used to, whether it be temporary or permanent. Fortunately, there are numerous workers’ protection and compensation laws in effect throughout the United States that help injured workers receive financial assistance while they are injured.
Federal Workers’ Compensation Insurance
In most states throughout the U.S., employees are barred from suing their employers for workers’ compensation. This is because most states require employers to carry what’s known as workers’ compensation insurance, which covers medical bills and lost wages. In essence, filing a workers’ compensation claim is an employees “exclusive remedy” for a work-related injury.
Workers’ compensation insurance claims have both positives and negatives for injured workers. On the positive side, filing a workers’ compensation claim is quick whereas a civil lawsuit can be drawn out and complicated. Additionally, injured employers begin receiving monetary benefits almost immediately, whereas a civil lawsuit would only have a monetary award if the case was won.
The major drawback to filing a workers’ compensation claim, is the injured employee is unable to recover punitive damages (pain and suffering). Benefits awarded through a workers’ compensation claim are limited by the laws in your state, and are typically tied to a percentage of your wages.
When you can sue your employer for harm
There are very specific and rare instances employees can sue their employers for a workplace injury. It’s important to note that these cases are extremely rare, and must be filed in civil court as they are considered civil claims. These instances include:
Your employer intentionally hurt you – Suing your employer for intentional harm is more difficult than it sounds. In order to do so, your employer would have to take action for the specific intent of harming you. An example of this would be your employer physically assaulting you. This does not include negligence by employers – no matter how careless they were.
Your employer has insufficient workers’ compensation insurance – As mentioned previously, most states require employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Texas is the only state give employers the opportunity to waive coverage, and even employers in other states may neglect coverage and break the law. If you are injured at work and your employer doesn’t have workers’ compensation insurance, you are able to bring a lawsuit against them to recover damages.
An important note, if your workers’ compensation claim is denied, you may file an appeal with your state’s administrative agency, but you may not file a lawsuit against your employer.
Suing Outside of Workers’ Compensation
If you, perhaps with the help of a workers’ compensation attorney, have determined that you are eligible to file a lawsuit against your employer in civil court, you will be able to file for pain and suffering and other punitive damages. Punitive damages can be in excess of what you actually incurred, especially if your employer displayed increased negligent behavior.
Hiring an attorney is the best first step you can take when going up against an employer. They will walk you through the entire process, and can provide insight that cannot be found online. An attorney can also ensure you are filing your case paperwork in the proper jurisdiction, and help give you the greatest chance at a positive outcome.
Proving Your Injury Case
If you and your attorney have determined you have the eligibility to file a claim against your employer, you must next prove to the judge you have a case. This includes either proving your employer intentionally hurt you, or that your employer did not have sufficient workers’ compensation insurance.
You and your attorney must be ready to prove that your employer did something to cause your injury. This differs from the burden of proof in a workers’ compensation claim where you must only prove that your injury occurred on the job. You will also need to show the court what damages you incurred because of the injury such as medical bills, lost wages, permanent physical or mental disabilities and more.
Being injured at work is a huge burden to American workers, and dealing with financial consequences afterwards are equally as frustrating. While federal workers’ compensation laws attempt to protect the worker and employer financially, they can be hindering to workers who wish to seek civil action against a negligent employer. If your employer has physically harmed you or failed to maintain proper workers’ compensation insurance, you should reach out to an attorney to see what options you have outside of a traditional workers; compensation claim.