Workers' Compensation: Can I Sue My Employer Instead?
In most cases, the answer to this question is no. The workers' compensation system was established as a trade-off in which injured employees gave up the right to sue employers in court, in exchange for the right to receive workers' compensation benefits regardless of who was at fault for their injuries. Most employers are required by law to provide workers' compensation insurance for the benefit of their employees. In exchange for providing that insurance, employers are protected from defending personal injury claims brought by employees in civil actions.
Nonetheless, workers' compensation does not prohibit an employee from bringing a claim against his or her employer for an intentional tort, or any injury sustained due to intentional behavior on the part of an employer seeking to harm an employee. Also, an employee may sue his or her employer for non-physical injuries such as emotional distress or discrimination.
Additionally, in most states, employees are free to pursue third parties (entities other than the employer) whom they feel are responsible for their work-related injuries. For example, an employee who believes his or her injury was caused by defective equipment may consider filing a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the equipment. In many states, an employee who is successful in recovering damages from a third party may either have to pay a portion of the recovery back to the employer to repay the workers' compensation benefits that were received, or the employer and its insurer may be allowed to become a party to the lawsuit and seek to recover the value of the benefits paid on behalf of the employee.
Can I File a Lawsuit if My Employer Disputes My Workers' Compensation Claim?
Usually, workers' compensation claims are pursued through the administrative process and not through the court system. Only once the administrative process has been exhausted, and the parties have taken every step they can to settle a claim, including attending an administrative hearing, may they appeal the compensation award to a workers' compensation appeal board or court.
In many states, if a party still takes issue with the determination of the workers' compensation appeal board or court, redress may then be sought in the civil court system. This process is specifically controlled by each state and, if you haven't already, you should retain an attorney familiar with the workers' compensation system in your state to handle your claim.Getting Help
If you are unsure whether you have a workers' compensation claim or a civil claim against your employer, you should consult with an experienced
workers' compensation or personal injury attorney. You may also wish to contact the workers' compensation commissioner's office in your state.