If you’ve ever pulled a muscle or gotten a paper cut while working, you’ve probably had at least one co-worker jokingly say, “worker’s comp!” When you’ve really hurt yourself at work, though, filing a worker’s compensation claim is no joke—it might be exactly what you need to get compensated for your medical bills and any other expenses you incurred due to your on-the-job injury. After all, that’s the whole reason employers are required to have worker’s compensation insurance. However, worker’s comp isn’t always the only option in the wake of a workplace accident. When you become injured at work due to negligence, defective products, toxic substances, or intentional actions, it’s possible that you might be better off skipping the worker’s compensation claim and filing a personal injury lawsuit instead.
The idea of suing your employer can seem intimidating to many people, but there can be good reasons for doing so. The main thing that you can get from a lawsuit that worker’s compensation insurance won’t pay out is benefits for pain and suffering and loss of potential future earnings. Worker’s compensation will only pay for tangible costs like medical bills, rehabilitation, and lost wages. If you file a worker’s compensation claim, you forfeit your right to sue, so it’s important to assess your situation when you become injured and make the best decision for yourself about what to do. For an accident in which your employer wasn’t at fault due to negligence or defective equipment, after which you expect to recover fully and go back to work, filing a worker’s comp might make perfect sense. In the case of a major, preventable injury that will impact your life for a long time to come, worker’s comp may be inadequate to provide you with the financial benefits you need to take care of yourself and get your normal life back.
The crux of any personal injury related lawsuit is going to be proving fault. If you were responsible for the accident that caused your injury, worker’s compensation might be the way to go, because you’re entitled to its benefits even if you’re the one at fault. If the accident was caused by your employer’s actions, or even the actions of a third party like the owner of the property where you were working, or the manufacturer of a product or substance that caused your injury, that’s when you may want to take the extra step of filing a lawsuit. At this point, you’ll want to start looking for an experienced personal injury attorney, preferably one who specializes in workplace injury claims. A consultation with a lawyer can help you determine if your case has strong legal merits and is worth pursuing. A lawyer can also help provide you with guidance as to which of the involved parties you should sue, in cases where it’s not clear whether an employer, landlord, or product manufacturer bears the primary responsibility for causing an accident.
What can you expect when you go forward with a personal injury lawsuit? In many cases, a company will have an insurance provider who would be on the hook for paying out the claim, and the insurance company will attempt to prove that the person bringing the lawsuit is responsible for causing their own injury. Insurance companies retain experienced lawyers with years of expertise defending against personal injury claims, but if you have a solid case to bring, don’t let that scare you! It’s entirely possible to find equally proficient lawyers to argue on your behalf, and many of them will work on a contingency basis.
Aside from the fact that personal injury lawsuits can get you greater benefits than worker’s compensation will, there’s another, more selfless reason why it might make good sense to file a lawsuit when your employer causes you to be injured on the job. Lawsuits, and the punitive damages they can incur, can be a very powerful form of motivation for employers to make improvements to employee safety. Most companies aren’t out to hurt people, but there are some that will resist making costly changes to improve safety conditions for their employees unless their bottom line takes a hit. You never know—some workplace injury lawsuits can end up saving lives in the future.
Ultimately, the decision of whether to file a worker’s compensation claim or sue your employer (or a third party) depends on the circumstances of the accident and the true facts of who was at fault. If you suffer an injury in a workplace accident that wasn’t your fault, don’t be afraid to consult with an attorney to see if you have a basis for a lawsuit, because a successful case can have significant benefits for you and potentially others, too.