Can I Sue for a Workplace Injury?
When you or a loved one are injured on the job or develop an illness due to exposure to toxins or other hazardous substances, you may not know how to go about seeking compensation for your injuries and other damages.
Although compensation for injuries caused by someone else’s acts or negligence is usually obtained through a civil legal claim, when injuries and harm arise on the job, claims for compensation are governed by the state’s workers’ compensation law.
In Connecticut, all employers are required to provide workers’ compensation benefits to all employees, unless the employee is a domestic worker who works less than 26 hours a week; a business owner or sole proprietor is also not required to provide workers’ compensation for herself or himself.
What Is a Workers’ Comp Claim?
Workers’ compensation is a system under which an injured worker trades his or her right to pursue a legal claim against his or her employer in exchange for lesser but guaranteed benefits, including medical care, partial wage replacement, disability compensation, and other benefits. The employer also receives immunity from an employee’s lawsuit in exchange for providing benefits regardless of who was at fault for causing the worker’s injury or illness.
Workers’ compensation is considered a no-fault system, as (with limited exceptions) the worker is entitled to compensation so long as he or she can establish that his or her injury or illness is work-related. An injured worker is not required to prove his or her employer’s fault for his or her injury or illness to receive benefits from the employer.
The workers’ compensation system only covers a business’ employees – independent contractors are not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits from the company that hires them but only from the legal entity (if any) that employs the contractor.
Even though workers’ compensation law usually precludes an employee from filing a lawsuit for their injuries or illness, there are circumstances under which an injured worker can still bring a legal claim.
If you or a loved one have suffered an injury or illness on the job, contact the Connecticut workers’ compensation attorneys of Kocian Law Group today to schedule a free consultation to learn more about your rights and options for compensation for your injury or illness.
Can I Sue My Employer for an On-the-Job Injury?
As a general rule, an employee who suffers a work-related injury or illness is precluded by the state’s workers’ compensation law from filing a lawsuit against his or her employer for the injury or illness. However, most states’ workers’ compensation laws do provide a set of exceptions to an employer’s immunity from a lawsuit.
If an injured worker can meet one of these exceptions, he or she may be eligible to file a lawsuit against his or her employer. There are also certain classes of workers who are exempted by federal law from state workers’ compensation systems, including seamen, who can file a personal injury lawsuit against their employer under the Jones Act. Interstate railroad workers can also file a damages suit against their employer under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA).
A worker who suffers a work-related injury or illness may also be able to sue their employer if there are complications with the process. For example, an injured worker may be able to file suit against an employer who denies a workers’ compensation claim in bad faith. However, the employee will usually be required to first exhaust the official workers’ compensation claim procedure with the state before filing a lawsuit.
A worker who is retaliated against by his or her employer for making a workers’ compensation claim (such as if the worker is demoted, denied promotion, transferred to a less-desirable position or less-desirable job duties, suffers a pay reduction or reduction in assigned hours, or is terminated) may be eligible to file a retaliation lawsuit against his or her employer.
When Can You Sue After a Work Injury or Work-Related Death?
If you wish to file a lawsuit following a work injury or work-related death, you will often be required to first exhaust your administrative remedies under the workers’ compensation law. You must first file a workers’ compensation claim with your employer. If your employer denies your claim, then you could file a claim with the state.
Regardless of whether you are suing for a wrongful denial of a workers’ compensation claim or you are filing a personal injury lawsuit under one of the exceptions to immunity under the workers’ compensation law, you will always be required to file your lawsuit within the applicable statute of limitations for your claim.
The workers’ compensation attorneys of Kocian Law Group can help you understand when you may be eligible to file suit for your work-related injuries or illness and how long you have to file your suit.
What Are the Exceptions to Employer Immunity for Work Injuries?
While each state’s workers’ compensation laws grant employers broad immunity from personal injury lawsuits brought by their workers when those workers are injured on the job, there are specific exceptions under most states’ workers’ compensation laws that allow an employee to bring a lawsuit against his or her employer for work-related injuries or illness.
- Intentionally-caused injury: If your work-related injury or illness was brought about by the intentional or reckless actions of your employer (including by one of your co-workers), such as assault and battery, your employer may lose its liability under workers’ compensation law and you may be entitled to file a personal injury lawsuit against your employer
- Bad faith denial of workers’ compensation benefits: Under some states’ workers’ compensation laws, if an employer denies an injured or ill employee workers’ compensation benefits in bad faith (knowing that the employee is likely entitled to workers’ compensation benefits), then you might be entitled to file a lawsuit against your employer for compensation. However, you may be required to first exhaust your administrative remedies under workers’ compensation laws before filing a lawsuit.
- Failure to carry workers’ compensation insurance: In states where an employer is required to purchase workers’ compensation insurance, you might be entitled to file a lawsuit against your employer for compensation for work-related injuries or illnesses if the employer does not have an active workers’ compensation policy. Alternatively, in some states, you may only be entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits from a state-maintained fund, with the state then able to file a lawsuit against your employer for reimbursement.
- Defective product: If you are injured on the job by a product designed and/or manufactured by your employer, you may be entitled to file a product liability claim against your employer.
- Toxic exposure: You may be eligible to file a personal injury lawsuit if you develop an occupational illness caused by exposure to harmful substances while on the job, such as asbestos, lead, or radioactive substances.
- Contractor/Subcontractor involvement: If you are injured on the job by a contractor or subcontractor hired by your employer or one of your employer’s contractors, you may be able to pursue a lawsuit against your employer under a theory of negligent hiring or entrustment, or according to the contractual relationship between your employer and the contractor.
Contact Kocian Law Group today to determine whether your case falls under one of the exceptions to employer immunity under Connecticut’s workers’ compensation law.
If I Can’t Sue My Employer, How Can I Seek Full Compensation for My Work Injury?
Even though you may not be able to file a lawsuit against your employer for a work injury, there are other options for seeking compensation for your work-related injury or illness. The first step is to file a workers’ compensation with your employer. If your employer accepts that your injury or illness is work-related, it will begin paying workers’ compensation benefits.
If your employer denies your workers’ compensation claim or refuses to pay benefits you believe you are entitled to – for example, if you become partially or totally disabled and your employer declines to pay disability benefits, or your employer refuses to pay for medical treatment you believe is reasonable and necessary – then you can seek compensation by filing a workers’ compensation claim with the state.
Every state has an administrative hearing process if an injured worker wishes to seek benefits that his or her employer has declined to pay. The hearing process usually operates like a trial – you and your employer can both be represented by legal counsel, present evidence and testimony, and cross-examine each other’s witnesses.
When your work-related injury or illness is caused by a third party’s intentional acts or negligence, such as if you are injured in a motor vehicle accident caused by another driver or if you are injured by a defective product in the workplace, you may be entitled to seek compensation by filing a lawsuit against that at-fault party.
Although workers’ compensation laws provide immunity to employers from injury lawsuit brought by their employees, the law does not preclude an injured worker from filing a lawsuit against a third party who is responsible for causing the worker’s injuries.
However, if you recover compensation from a third-party via a settlement or court judgment, some states’ workers’ compensation systems allow an employer who has paid out workers’ compensation benefits to seek reimbursement from the injured worker’s third-party recovery, since the law does not allow an injured party to obtain a “double” recovery.
Can You Sue for Work Injuries after Settling a Workers’ Comp Claim?
If you and your employer get into a dispute over the amount and kinds of workers’ compensation benefits that you are entitled to, you may eventually resolve your workers’ compensation claim via a settlement with your employer or its workers’ compensation insurer.
A settlement usually involves a release of all past and future claims. As a result, if you settle your workers’ compensation claim with your employer, you generally will be precluded from filing suit against your employer or seeking additional money or benefits for the same work injuries. You would only be able to sue your employer for your work injuries following a workers’ compensation settlement if you can demonstrate that your employer obtained the settlement via fraud or another unlawful act.
You would also be able to sue your employer if they retaliate against you for your workers’ compensation claim. Retaliation is usually a “new” claim unless the retaliation occurred prior to settlement, you knew (or should have known) you had been the victim of retaliation by your employer, and your settlement releases your employer from retaliation claims.
Even if you have settled your workers’ compensation claim with your employer, you may still be eligible to sue for work injuries if those injuries were caused by a third party, such as if you were involved in a car accident, injured by a defective product, or assaulted by a co-worker or customer on the job.
A settlement with your insurer should also cover the third-party that was responsible for your injuries. You could be eligible to sue that third-party for your work injuries following the settlement of your workers’ compensation claim.
However, if you obtain any financial recovery from a third-party, your employer or its workers’ compensation insurer may seek to offset the settlement it paid to you from your third-party tort recovery, since an injured party is generally prohibited by law from obtaining a “double” recovery for injuries.
Suing for Injuries Caused by a Third-Party
When your work-related injury or illness is caused by a third-party, you are generally eligible to file a lawsuit against that third-party in addition to making a workers’ compensation claim for your injuries or illness.
This is because the workers’ compensation system guarantees an injured worker benefits for a work-related injury or illness regardless of who was at-fault for the injury or illness, while the system only provides immunity to an employer for an employee’s lawsuit for personal injury. A third-party is any person or entity other than your employer.
Third-parties can even include co-workers who are responsible for a work-related injury, such as if your boss assaults you or if you are injured in a car accident during a work-related trip where a co-worker behind the wheel was driving under the influence.
It is vital to note that if you are suing for injuries caused by a co-worker, you may only bring suit against the co-worker; your employer is still provided immunity under the workers’ compensation system for any vicarious liability claims.
It is important to note that if you file a workers’ compensation claim that is accepted by your employer and your employer starts paying workers’ compensation benefits, if you later obtain compensation from a third-party, your employer or its workers’ compensation insurer may be entitled to reimbursement from compensation you obtain for the workers’ compensation benefits you have received.
What Are Some Instances When a Personal Injury Lawsuit Applies to a Work Injury?
Some of the examples in which a personal injury lawsuit can arise from a work injury include:
- A piece of machinery injures you at your place of work
- You suffer a slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall accident at your place of work during your working hours
- You are involved in a motor vehicle accident while on a work-related trip or errand (but not driving to or from work at the beginning or end of the workday or on a personal errand during the workday)
- A co-worker or customer assaults you during working hours or on a work-trip
- You are exposed to a hazardous or toxic substance at your place of work
Contact a Connecticut Worker’s Compensation Lawyer Today
If you or a loved one have suffered a work-related injury or illness, contact the Connecticut workers’ compensation lawyers of Kocian Law Group for help right away. We fight for the rights of injured workers in our community, and it will be our goal to get you the benefits you’re entitled to. Contact us at 860-548-7300 to schedule your no-obligation consultation with us today.