If I Am Hurt on the Job, Can I File a Lawsuit for My Injuries?

By Peter DePaolis

Before 1884, most workers had no options if they were injured on the job other than a private injury lawsuit. Back in the day, these lawsuits not only had much smaller rewards but also took years to sort out. The origins of workers compensation vary per state, but Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismark was the first to create Employer’s Liability Law in 1871. Also, in 1884, he established the Workers Accident Insurance. It was not until 1911 that the United States adopted its first state-based workers compensation program – as part of the Industrial Revolution.

Wisconsin was the first state to attempt to create workers compensation laws, while Massachusetts and eight others followed quickly behind with various statutes.

Today, if you are injured at work, you know that you have workers compensation coverage. All states require employers to carry workers compensation coverage once they exceed a specific threshold. That threshold usually means hiring more than one employee (independent contractors are excluded). When your employer has workers compensation coverage, your medical costs and lost wages are compensated for a work-related injury or illness.

You may wonder if you could still file a personal injury lawsuit. After all, you know you received compensation from workers compensation insurance. However, that insurance only covered a percentage of your lost wages and did not cover areas like pain and suffering. In most cases, you cannot file a regular lawsuit for your workplace injury unless you meet specific circumstances.

The Exclusive Remedy – Workers’ Compensation

If you were to seek payment through workers compensation, then you have taken advantage of your exclusive remedy offered by the state. That means you cannot file a personal injury lawsuit against the employer.   There are benefits to taking your workers compensation coverage over filing a traditional lawsuit. First off, you would receive compensation quicker than an injury lawsuit, which could take years to resolve.

Also, your employer’s workers compensation insurance starts claim-related medical care payments almost immediately. You also do not have the unpredictability of a lawsuit. If you are permanently disabled, then you would also receive compensation for that disability.

Unfortunately, workers compensation has plenty of shortcomings. Not only can you not receive pain and suffering, but you would not collect punitive damages either. Instead, damages are limited to the percentage of your wages and the full medical costs.

The Difference between Injury Lawsuits and Workers’ Compensation

You have several key differences between an injury lawsuit and workers’ compensation.

  • Fault Determination – In a personal injury case, you must prove that the party you are suing for compensation is at-fault for your injuries. That means showing that they owed you a duty of care, breached that duty, and the breach caused your injuries. In a workers compensation claim, you do not have to go through the tedious effort of proving negligence.
  • Damages – The damages you receive in workers compensation are limited.  The only compensation you get is medical costs and a percentage of lost wages. If you are permanently disabled, you may receive small payments over time or a lump sum settlement that would cover medical expenses, future medical costs, impairment, and lost earnings.   You may also receive vocational rehabilitation services if you need to retrain for a different career field because of your injury. In a personal injury case, damages extend much further and often include higher settlement value.

Are There Instances Where You Could File an Injury Lawsuit?

Under limited circumstances, you may also qualify for a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party. It is best to consult with an injury attorney if you think your case might be eligible for compensation outside of workers’ compensation. Here are some instances that might be eligible.

  • Your employer caused harm intentionally. You may sue your employer if you can prove that the harm was intentional. For example, your supervisor physically assaults you and causes injury. In this instance, the act was not only deliberate, but also your employer failed to protect your health and safety. Intentional acts are not the same as extreme carelessness. An employer could be extremely careless with your safety, but still not qualify for an injury lawsuit.
  • Your employer does not have workers compensation insurance. If your employer does not have workers compensation insurance, then you may qualify to sue in a personal injury lawsuit. Your employer may have broken the law as well, which means they will face state fines.
  • A third party is responsible. In some cases, your injury stems from third-party negligence. For example, you were injured by defective construction equipment. The company that manufactures that equipment failed to recognize the defect. Therefore, you may have an injury claim against them.

You Cannot Sue Your Employer If Your Workers Compensation Claim Is Denied

Some employees assume that if their workers compensation case is denied, they could file an injury lawsuit. Sadly, this is not the case. Instead, you must file an appeal with the state’s administrative agency overseeing workers compensation insurance claims. It is best to file your appeal with the assistance of an injury attorney because these types of cases are incredibly complex.

Speak with an Injury Attorney First

Before assuming your case qualifies or does not qualify, call a workers compensation injury attorney for a consultation quickly. You can review your rights and see if your injury case qualifies for an injury lawsuit or workers compensation. Some statutes limit how much time you have to file, and some states have extremely short statutes.

Speak with an attorney from Koonz McKenney Johnson & DePaolis LLP today. We have three convenient office locations including Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia. You can also ask us a question online by completing the online contact form.

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.