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When You Can & When You Can’t Sue Your Employer

When on-the-job accidents happen, it is important to understand your rights and legal recourses. Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system in which workers in New York City and the surrounding areas are entitled to benefits, regardless of who is to blame for their accident. If you were injured, your employer must provide coverage for your medical care and partial lost wages. But under this system, you cannot sue your employer. However, exceptions to this rule do exist.

What Happens with Workers’ Comp

When you are injured on the job, it can change your life drastically. Hospital care, surgeries, therapy and many other expensive, unexpected factors suddenly dominate your life.

Then there is the injury itself, which may affect you on both emotional and physical levels. Your injury may prevent you from working for a long time, or it may mean you cannot return to your former job. It could even mean that you can’t return to the marketplace to find another job. Workers’ comp should cover all these concerns.

That’s because worker’s comp exists to return you to a functional state for work by providing the time and help to recover and to help pay for the costs incurred while you are out of work. If you cannot return to any workplace or must receive medical care for the rest of your life due to the workplace injury, you are supposed to receive compensation for life.

It’s a helpful system designed to eliminate civil lawsuits in the workplace, but as previously mentioned, there are exceptions that allow you to move beyond worker’s comp.

When You Can Sue Your Employer

Workers may be able to file a lawsuit against an employer only if the employer does not carry the proper workers’ comp insurance or if the employer intentionally causes harm to the worker.

Further, while workers cannot sue their employers in most cases, they may file a lawsuit against a third party that is responsible for their injury, such as another contractor on a construction site. New York’s Workers’ Compensation Law §11 outlines certain “grave injuries” for which an employer may be involved in the lawsuit.

A worker may file the suit against a third party, who may then involve the employer in the lawsuit. A grave injury may include:

  • death;
  • permanent, total loss of use or amputation of arm, leg, hand or foot;
  • loss of multiple fingers or toes;
  • loss of index finger;
  • paraplegia or quadriplegia;
  • total, permanent blindness or deafness;
  • loss of nose or ear;
  • permanent, severe facial disfigurement; and
  • acquired brain injury related to physical force that results in permanent and total disability.

Another exception stems from construction work in particular. New York passed The Scaffold Law (NYS Labor Law sections 240/241), which allows workers injured by elevated falls to hold general contractors and property owners “absolutely liable” for their injuries, regardless of the employee’s own negligence or mistake, no matter how obvious or serious.

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