Legalities of Receiving Workers Comp and Suing an Employer

Injuries on the job are often covered by an employer’s worker’s compensation insurance. All fifty states and the federal government require employees to be covered by some sort of worker’s compensation policy. As part of carrying worker’s compensation insurance, employers benefit from legal protection from lawsuits from injured workers. As long as companies remain in good standing with their insurance carriers, they are shielded from most legal action. This means that workers generally cannot file a regular lawsuit for damages related to a workplace injury or illness.

Employers are not the only benefactors of a worker’s compensation policy. Workers also tend to benefit from the policy when they are injured on the job.  These benefits of filing a worker’s compensation claim include the following:

  • The worker will receive compensation more quickly than had they been involved in a lawsuit
  • In a worker’s compensation claim, the worker is permitted to begin receiving monetary and medical benefits immediately, as long as they are eligible
  • The employer will begin payment of almost all claim-related medical care
  • The worker may be eligible to receive compensation for lost wages and permanent disability benefits if they are unable to work as a result of the injury or illness

The single downside to filing a worker’s compensation claim is that the worker cannot recover punitive damages. The benefits received will be limited to those allowed by the worker’s compensation laws in the worker’s particular state, and are usually tied to a percentage of the worker’s wages.

Even in cases where a worker’s compensation claim is denied, the worker may not be eligible to file a lawsuit against their employer. Instead, they may file an appeal with the administrative agency in the state that governs worker’s compensation appeals.

There are extenuating circumstances, however, when a worker could be eligible to file a lawsuit against their employer in civil court. These include:

  • The employer intentionally caused harm or injury to the worker. Note that carelessness is NOT sufficient enough to warrant an intentional harm case.
  • The employer’s worker’s compensation insurance was insufficient or nonexistent when the accident or injury took place. In most cases, a lawsuit can be filed against the employer to recover damages from the work-related injury or occupational disease.

Suing an employer in a worker’s compensation case allows a worker to seek benefits and compensation beyond those provided by the worker’s compensation benefits. In addition to lost wages, reimbursement for medical treatment, and compensation for permanent impairment, the worker may be able to sue for pain and suffering and punitive damages. These punitive damages could be a sum of money many times the amount of actual damages incurred, depending on the case.

Another option beyond suing an employer is to seek compensation from a third party. Often, third parties are liable for accidents and injuries due to defective products. If this has happened to a worker, they may be able to file a lawsuit against the third party to seek additional compensation.