Can I Sue My Employer If I Am Hurt At Work?
I’d be safe in saying most people have a sense that when you sustain a personal injury at work you are entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits. There is a general sense, held by even someone who has never pursued such a claim, that the employer [or in reality, their workers' compensation insurance company] is responsible for medical bills and lost time. There is some generally recognized understanding that a seriously injured worker may also be entitled to some additional monetary compensation. What is not a commonly understood is that
An injured worker is typically not entitled pursue an action against the employer for any negligence that led to the personal injury.
Many years ago, before the adoption of the workers’ compensation systems currently in place in all states, if an employee was injured at work they had to prove that the employer was negligent in causing that injury. This was sometimes difficult to do as frequently an employer is simply not at fault for a workplace accident. Moreover, is a state like Maryland, concepts of contributory negligence often were used to bar any recovery whatsoever for the injured worker, even where there was clear fault on the employer’s behalf. All state's now utilize a system of workers compensation benefits premised on a no-fault assumption. That is, if it worker is injured by work activity in the scope and course of their employment, they are entitled to wage loss benefits, medical care, permanent impairment benefits, and potentially total disability benefits, in an appropriate case, without having to prove any fault whatsoever.
The trade-off for being relieved from the obligation to prove employer fault is that the injured worker may not recover damages for pain and suffering /non-economic damages from an employer for work place injuries.
This is sometimes referred to as "workers' comp immunity". As with all rules, of course, there are exceptions. If an employer intentionally injuries and employee they may be subject to suit in tort, although not a negligence based suit. In theory, the law does provide an exception that if it is a certainty that the employee will be injured, and employer may not enjoy immunity, but this exception is rarely if ever employed. I'm often asked by injured workers: “can I sue my employer?” The most basic answer to that question is “yes”. You may file a claim against them for workers compensation benefits. However, they are immune from suit in a court of law for any injury that you sustained at work. An injured worker can recover workers compensation benefits from their employer, but cannot recover tort damages such as pain, suffering, distress and disfigurement. An effective workers' compensation attorney may be able to intelligently advise you if the circumstances of your injury come within an exception to the general rules.
I have a cost free strategy conference, evaluation and analysis process that I employ in every personal injury case brought to us. While it is impossible to fully and fairly evaluate the value of a personal injury claim during this initial encounter, we can lay the groundwork for that ultimate opinion. Contact me today to begin this process.
-This Article was updated by Eric Kirk on 8/12/20.