Can I Still Sue My Employer if I Accept Workers’ Compensation?

By Peter DePaolis

All 50 states in the U.S. have workers’ compensation programs to pay for workers’ injuries using a no-fault system. As an injured employee, you do not have to prove fault for your injuries to receive compensation if your employer carries workers’ compensation insurance. The tradeoff for this no-fault coverage is that you forfeit your right to file a lawsuit against your employer. In general, if you accept a workers’ compensation settlement, you cannot bring a negligence claim against an employer. However, your rights may vary since each case is unique.

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How the Workers’ Compensation System Operates

In states with workers’ compensation programs, qualifying employers must carry this type of insurance. When an accident happens on the job that results in employee injury, the employer’s insurance will make payments for the employee’s related medical bills and lost wages. The workers’ compensation system cuts out the months or years it might take the injured employee to litigate a claim by offering benefits without the worker needing to prove negligence.

In exchange for no-fault benefits, the workers’ compensation system prohibits the injured worker from filing a liability lawsuit against the employer. The employer pays for workers’ compensation insurance to protect the company against lawsuits from injured employees. In most states, a worker cannot receive payment for damages through both workers’ compensation and a lawsuit against the employer. The employee automatically gives up the right to bring a negligence claim when he or she accepts a workers’ compensation settlement. State laws often refer to this exchange as the compensation bargain.

The compensation bargain protects both parties: employers and employees. Employers do not need to worry about injured employees holding them responsible for damages – something that was forcing many companies to go bankrupt before workers’ compensation laws. Employees do not need to expend the time, money or energy it would take to file a lawsuit to obtain financial recovery. However, workers’ compensation is not a flawless system. Sometimes, it may be in an injured worker’s best interest to pursue damages in other ways.

When Can You File a Claim Against Your Employer?

With a workers’ compensation settlement, you cannot receive payment for your physical pain, emotional suffering or mental anguish. You will also be ineligible to receive punitive damages; even if someone else’s gross negligence caused your injuries. For these reasons, many employees seek restitution through the civil claims process rather than workers’ compensation. A negligence-based lawsuit could result in better compensation for the injured worker or family members.

You may have the right to file a lawsuit against your employer if you do not accept a workers’ compensation insurance settlement and if your employer negligently or intentionally caused your injuries. If you have evidence that your employer caused your injuries and you have not said yes to a settlement, you may be able to file a negligence claim instead. You may also have grounds for a lawsuit if your employer does not have workers’ compensation insurance. Keep in mind, however, that winning compensation in a lawsuit will take proving your case before a judge or jury.

Third-Party Workplace Injury Lawsuits

The third option for recovering damages after a workplace injury is a combination of both workers’ compensation and a civil lawsuit. This may be possible if you bring your lawsuit against a third party – someone other than your employer. If a product manufacturer contributed to your workplace accident, for example, you could recover funds through both a workers’ compensation settlement and a lawsuit against the manufacturing company. Filing both types of claims could result in maximum compensation for your damages. Ask a workers’ compensation lawyer for counsel about your legal options after a serious work-related injury. The right course of action will depend on your specific situation.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.