It’s a reasonable question. It seems like every day we hear about another lawsuit, so why can’t employees sue their employers when they’re injured on the job?
The workers’ compensation system was designed as a trade-off. In exchange for an “easier” and “simpler” claims system, the employee gives up his right to sue in court for work-related injuries and occupational diseases. Additionally, the employee often has to give up general claims to damages like pain and suffering and punitive damages. Only those medical benefits and lost wages are available under the workers’ compensation scheme.
The benefit to the injured worker is that unlike a typical personal injury lawsuit, the injured worker does not have a burden of proving any negligence or wrongdoing on the part of the employer. Often, discovery into the standard of care required of the employer and whether a breach of that standard of care occurred can be a very costly and lengthy portion of the litigation process. This typically requires that experts be hired, depositions be taken, and a great deal of investigation be undertaken into the safety of the job site.
In exchange, the employer is protected from the costs of having to defend personal injury lawsuits and protected from potentially high pain and suffering payouts.
However, there are some times that you may be allowed to bring a personal injury lawsuit against your employer. Workers’ compensation does not prohibit the injured worker from suing for intentional torts or injuries he suffered due to any intentional behavior by his employer.
Intentional torts include assault, battery, false imprisonment, slander, and libel.
Claims Against Third Parties
Employees are also free to pursue claims against third-parties who have contributed to their injuries. For instance, if you are injured on the job by a defective drill press, you may not be able to sue your employer – but you probably will be able to maintain a claim against the manufacturer of the drill press. This claim will allow you to obtain the non-economic damages (like pain and suffering benefits) that are not available in a claim against your employer.