Workers' Compensation Vs. Personal Injury Lawsuits: Understanding Your Rights And Options

Posted on: 12 March 2015

If you've been hurt on the job, you most likely received (or soon will receive) money for your injury claims via workers' compensation. Every state in the U.S. has its own laws, in conjunction with federal laws, regarding the administration of workers' compensation, providing employees with much-needed funds so they can either heal up and get back to work or survive a long-term disability. But suppose you're not satisfied with your workers' compensation sum, or you have a personal grievance against your employer associated with the circumstances of the accident -- what are your options? Here are some considerations to keep in mind.

In Most Cases, You Can't Sue...

Workers' compensation is designed to help employees pay their medical bills while protecting their employers from potentially bank-breaking lawsuits. It's a "no-fault" agreement that usually covers emergency treatment, physical therapy, job-related hazard exposure, permanent impairment, and total disability -- it can even provide survivors with a death benefit. If you recover but are left with some degree of disability, you may be required to undergo a medical evaluation, the results of which determine the size of your final lump-sum payment.

This kind of coverage is obviously a great help when you're facing big medical bills and a lengthy recovery time, but there's a price to be paid for all this good will. In exchange for receiving your financial recompense quickly and efficiently, with no need for a protracted court dispute or the possibility of losing a lawsuit altogether, you agree to give up your right to sue the employer and/or your fellow workers for pain and suffering or other damages. 

...But There Are Exceptions

A workers' compensation benefit is an open-and-shut case most of the time, but you might be surprised to learn that in certain situations you can indeed file a personal lawsuit in addition to (or instead of) your workers' compensation award. These exceptions may include:

Malicious intent to do harm - Did your employer or a fellow employee deliberately place you in harm's way, and can you prove it in a court of law? If so, then you can file a personal injury lawsuit for damages. A malicious action such as physical assault is a prime example. But you must take care to show the injury was intentional and not accidental. Getting run over by a forklift because the driver fainted, for example, is not the same thing as being struck deliberately.

No workers' compensation coverage - Some employers will actually take their chances by breaking the law and not providing any workers' compensation whatsoever. The state of Texas doesn't even require its businesses to maintain a workers' compensation policy. If your employer doesn't offer workers' compensation, then you have full access to other methods of reimbursement, including taking your personal injury claims to court. Of course, your attorney will have to prove  the employer was negligent, malicious, or otherwise responsible for your injury. (That's one of the big advantages of workers' compensation -- you don't have to establish fault.)

Inadequate workers' compensation coverage - Even when employers obey the letter of the law by providing workers' compensation, the actual amount of coverage they maintain may be absurdly inadequate to cover serious medical expenses. If you find this to be true in your case, you may be able to pursue additional compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. Your attorney will most likely have to request supporting records, such as insurance documents, via a court-issued subpoena.

Boat and interstate railroad jobs - If you serve on an interstate railroad or boat crew, neither you nor your employer are bound by any sort of workers' compensation program. That could be great news for you if you have a strong case to receive a hefty personal lawsuit award -- but it also means you could come away empty-handed after wasting a lot of time and effort.

You might have a textbook case for a personal injury lawsuit, even in the face of workers' compensation, but the only way to be 100 percent certain is to consult an experienced accident or personal injury attorney, and you can click here for more information. It could be one of the most important conversations you ever have where your financial future is concerned!