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The establishment of the workers' compensation insurance system effectively barred employees from suing an employer after suffering a workplace injury. As long as employers provide workers' compensation insurance, they are typically protected from personal injury suits when an employee is hurt on the job. This also offers employees protection in the event their own carelessness caused their injury.
However, there are exceptions to this no-fault system. These include injuries caused by defective products, toxic substances, the intentional or egregious conduct of the employer, and employers who are not insured. Another option is if a third party caused the injury. In this case, the employee may be able to sue that third party for damages.
If you were injured at work, workers' compensation insurance provides financial benefits, typically in the form of disability payments and reimbursement for medical bills. However, this compensation does not include pain and suffering, nor does it include punitive damages against your employer. It is important to understand when you have the right to sue outside of the workers' compensation system.
Can I Sue for Workplace Defective Product Injuries?
Injuries resulting from defective, malfunctioning, or inherently dangerous machinery may qualify as exceptions to the workers' compensation insurance system. If the machine's manufacturer knew of the potential danger and did not warn the business or its employees, the manufacturer may be held responsible. This includes compensation for lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering.
Can I Sue for Workplace Toxic Substance Injuries?
There are two types of toxic substance injury: acute and latent. Acute injuries are immediately apparent; think poisoning or chemical burns. Latent injuries may take years to manifest and include things like cancer and lung disease. Latent injury cases are more difficult to prove but employees have successfully sued after exposure to toxic substances like asbestos.
If your injury occurred due to exposure to a toxic substance such as asbestos, benzene, or any other chemical, you may be able to sue your employer under a toxic tort. These suits often involve numerous employees in what is known as a class action lawsuit.
Can I Sue for Injuries Caused by an Employer's Intentional or Egregious Conduct?
If an employer intentionally injures an employee, most states allow that employee to sue for damages. As of 2016, ten states do not allow these suits, and neither does the federal government. Another dozen states allow employees to sue if the employer's gross negligence caused the injury. The reason is that these states consider negligent or reckless behavior indistinguishable from intentional harm.
Physical and non-physical injuries alike are covered by an intentional tort and include a wide variety of offenses. For example, assault, whether attempted battery, the threat of, or actual injury to your person is an intentional tort. Also, defamation, when false statements about you cause you harm. There is also invasion of privacy, fraud, false imprisonment, and intentional conflict of emotional distress. An employment attorney can advise you whether your injury falls under this category.
Can I Sue for Workplace Injuries when the Employer is Uninsured?
Employers who do not carry workers' compensation insurance open themselves up to personal injury suits if an employee is injured. This type of suit typically provides the opportunity to receive a greater financial benefit, since you may be able to add pain and suffering, as well as punitive damages, to your suit. The caveat is that you must prove the employer is responsible for your injury. This same burden of proof is not applicable in the workers' compensation system. Some states provide a fund to benefit employees injured while working for an employer without workers' compensation insurance.
What to do if Your Workplace Injury Claim was Denied?
Workers' compensation claims typically go through an administrative process, not the court system. Employees who were denied workers' comp benefits, or whose benefits were terminated, must go through the full administrative process before seeking redress in civil court. Once all parties have done what they can to settle your claim, then you may appeal, usually to a workers' compensation board or in a specially nominated court. Each state issues its own controls over this appeals process.
Schedule a Free Workplace Injury Legal Consultation
If you aren't sure whether your work injury claim falls under workers' compensation insurance or whether it qualifies as an exception, schedule a free consultation with a personal injury lawyer. He or she will advise you on the strength and merits of your case.