The general rule is that the only compensation an injured employee can recover after a workplace accident is through his or her employer's workers' compensation insurance. There are exceptions to this rule. These include situations in which an employer failed to obtain workers' compensation insurance, intentional injuries by an employer or a third party, injuries that arise from a defective product or a toxic substance, or construction site accidents caused by an entity that does not employ you.
In some states, an employee can bypass the workers' compensation system and file a lawsuit in civil court if an employer intentionally hurts an employee or does something grossly negligent and egregious. Some states also allow employees to sue a supervisor or other employee who acts intentionally or egregiously to hurt the injured employee. Certain states, such as Alabama and Maine, do not permit employees to do this under any circumstances. Also, the federal government does not permit its employees to do this.
Independent contractors are not covered by workers' compensation laws, unless they have been misclassified. If you are an independent contractor who is injured at a work site, you can sue for personal injuries under theories such as negligence, product liability, and premises liability.
After a workplace accident that causes an injury, you should report the injury to your employer right away. For example, if you are a truck driver who is injured on the road, you should call your employer so that the workers' compensation insurer can be put on notice.
Whether you are an employee or an independent contractor, you should see a doctor as soon as possible and follow your doctor's recommendations for treatment. In most states, a workers' compensation insurer can require you to have an independent medical evaluation with a doctor of its choosing to determine the scope of your injuries.
When an employer fails to purchase workers' compensation insurance, you may be able to sue in civil court for personal injuries or make a claim against a state fund for injured workers of uninsured companies. You will be allowed to request damages for pain and suffering, but unlike workers' compensation claims, you will have to prove fault on the employer's part.
Workers' Compensation Injuries
Most states have enacted workers' compensation laws that provide benefits to those injured in the workplace, irrespective of fault. These laws ensure that employees receive compensation in the form of benefits even if they are partially responsible for the accident.
Since the worker will receive benefits regardless of fault, the worker loses the right to sue in civil court, where he or she would have to prove fault. The worker also loses the right to pursue pain and suffering and punitive damages that would punish an employer for having dangerous working conditions. In most cases, the worker also loses the right to pursue damages against coworkers individually. Temporary disability and permanent disability payments are usually low. Workers' compensation laws also give benefits to dependents of workers killed due to work-related accidents or illnesses.
Workplace Accidents Not Covered By Workers' Compensation
Workers who are injured by someone other than an employer or coworker may be able to sue that person or entity. When a worker is injured by defective equipment, he or she may be able to sue the manufacturer of the machine. A manufacturer can be held strictly liable. It can also be held liable for negligence and failure to warn.
Similarly, a worker who is injured by a toxic substance in the workplace, such as asbestos or benzene, may be able to bring a toxic tort lawsuit against the manufacturer of the toxic substance or safety equipment that failed to protect against the substance. Toxic tort lawsuits can be brought to recover for acute, immediate injuries like a chemical burn, as well as latent injuries, such as cancer and lung diseases like mesothelioma.