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Can I sue my employer for a work-related injury?
In some cases, an employer can be sued for a work-related injury, even when the employee is protected by workers' compensation insurance. But, this legal standing is qualified by the actions of the employer. Essentially, the employer must be operating in bad faith regarding the injured claimant's compensation insurance protection.
There are also work injury situations that involve an employer who does not carry workers' compensation insurance, which is against federal regulations, including paying cash wages to employees with no required deductions. Workers' compensation insurance companies also have the right to legal input regarding acceptance of a claim, so it is generally known that some work injury cases can get complicated.
The Purpose of Workers' Compensation Insurance
Workers' compensation is a federal law that is designed for implementation by each of the states. Each state can determine its own claims process as long as benefits are consistent with federal requirements. Wage replacement and medical benefits are the primary requirements by each state in accordance with federal law.
All states have a workers' compensation board that accepts claims for injured workers and that serves as an independent claims evaluator. The ultimate goal of the law is to maintain the prior employment relationship, along with the continuity of the worker's wages, while rehabilitating from a work injury. The legal benefit exchange for the employer is protection from a personal injury lawsuit when the employer is compliant with the law.
Timely Injury Reporting
Work injuries must be reported as soon as possible for an effective claim, but some work injuries such as back injuries do not develop until after a shift is completed. These late injuries can be problematic when an employer wants to deny the claim. Repetitive motion injuries are also protected by workers' compensation insurance, but these claims are also typically contested by both the employer and the workers' compensation insurance company.
It is important to understand that there are certain red flags and procedures that employers and insurance companies can use as evidence to deny a claim. Most states allow up to two years to file a claim by law. Injuries that occur as the result of a reported work accident are usually not defended as vigorously by the employer, although requesting a drug test from all involved employees is common following an accident.
Even when an injury has not be reported at the time of awareness, it is still important to seek medical attention because the medical bills and physician's report serve as documentation that an injury occurred within a reasonable time frame before the medical evaluation. Documentation is crucial when the injury requires treatment after a work day has been completed.
When You Can Sue for Negligence
While workers' compensation insurance is designed to protect the employment relationship for both parties, this does not mean that negligence is still not a factor in a claim. Employers who are not compliant with workers' compensation provisions can still be sued, and are often prosecuted or fined by the state for non-compliance. Both wrongful employment termination and wrongful death from a work injury accident creates legal standing for a personal injury.
Actually, any retaliation by a respondent can result in a civil tort claim (insurance companies included). Manufacturers of faulty work equipment can also be deemed negligent in standard civil legal actions, so the potential may exist for multiple negligent parties. Employers that do not maintain regulated safety inspections of work equipment can also be found negligent in the same manner. There are multiple types of retaliatory actions that are tort classifications, and wrongful death cases can create additional legal standing for loss of consortium for the employee's next of kin.
It is important to always discuss a work injury with a workers' compensation and personal injury attorney who can evaluate your case for potential maximization of recoverable damages. Punitive damages can also be imposed by a jury in some cases, so do not accept the idea that workers' compensation is the only legal remedy available regarding a work injury.