In terms of physical injuries, work-related injuries are no different from those a person can suffer when they’re not on the clock. However, there are significant differences in how injured victims may go about recovering compensation for those losses – specifically when it comes to pursuing benefits through workers’ compensation or filing a personal injury claim to recover damages.
At Gross & Schuster, we receive many calls from victims with questions about their rights following job-related injuries. Often, their confusion as to which pathway they should pursue stems from a common belief that all work injuries are handled through an employer’s workers’ compensation insurance, as well as a lack of familiarity with the types of situations that may entitle them to a recovery of damages via a personal injury claim or lawsuit. To help clear up the confusion, our attorneys discuss when injured workers may have the right to sue for damages outside of workers’ comp.
Workers’ Compensation vs. Personal Injury Lawsuits
To best understand your rights and options after a work injury, it’s important to know how workers’ compensation and personal injury cases work.
- Workers’ Compensation – Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance most employers are required by law to carry. It can provide workers who suffer job-related injuries with needed benefits, including medical benefits, wage supplementation, and vocational rehabilitation. Workers’ comp is distinct from personal injury in that it is a form of no-fault insurance. This means workers are entitled to benefits no matter who caused their accident and injury, and even so if they caused their own injuries. Pursuing benefits through workers’ compensation generally means an injured worker relinquishes their right to sue their employer for negligence.
- Personal Injury – Personal injury lawsuits are civil legal actions which claim that another party is at fault for causing injury and that they should be held liable for resulting damages suffered by victims. As such, victims must prove a few essential elements, including the existence of a legal duty between the defendant and the victim (i.e. a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent injury), and that the defendant’s failure to uphold this duty (i.e. because they were negligent) more likely than not caused the injury. While personal injury lawsuits require victims to prove their claims, they can provide a broader scope of damages than what is not available through workers’ compensation, including non-economic damages like pain and suffering.
When You Can Pursue a Personal Injury Case After a Work Injury
While many injured workers obtain benefits through their employer’s workers’ comp insurance, there are a few situations where they may have the right to pursue a personal injury case. These commonly include:
- Third party liability – Third party personal injury lawsuits are the most common ways injured workers pursue compensation outside of workers’ comp. This may be an option when workers suffer harm as a result of the negligence of a third party, meaning a party who is NOT their employer. Examples may include construction accidents caused by a contractor on a worksite, or car accidents caused by a third party driver of a motor vehicle.
- Product liability – When workers suffer injuries as a result of a defective or unsafe product, they may have the right to pursue a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer. This can include injuries caused by defectively designed, manufactured, or marketed tools, machines, and equipment, and other defective products.
- Toxic Substances – Not all work injuries involve traumatic injuries. Some may involve illnesses or other physical harm caused by exposure to a toxic substance. In these cases, workers may have the ability to seek compensation from the manufacturer which made the toxic substance available to the public.
- Premises liability – When workers suffer preventable injuries while performing job duties on worksites owned by a third party, they may be able to pursue compensation from the property owner. Under premises liability laws, property owners have an obligation to ensure the safety of their premises and address any potential hazards that pose risks to visitors and guests.
- Suing an employer – There are limited circumstances for injured workers to sue an employer. One situation may include cases where employers intentionally harm an employer, which means they took some action with the direct and specific intent to injure the victim. Injured workers may also have the right to sue an employer for damages when their employer did not carry workers’ comp insurance. Because most employers are required by law to carry workers’ comp insurance, however, this is only possible when an employer has broken the law.
Because the unique facts and circumstances of your accident have a tremendous impact on what your available options may be, a thorough evaluation is vital. At Gross & Schuster, our personal injury lawyers are available to review your work injury case, explain your rights and options, and discuss how we may be able to help you seek compensation outside of workers’ comp. To request a FREE consultation, contact us today.