Can You Sue Your Employer if You Get Injured at Work?

Man on lying on the floor beside a ladder


Some workplaces are dangerous places. Each year, nearly 3 million workplace-related injuries and illnesses are reported. Workers who are most-often injured are laborers; nursing aides, orderlies and attendants; janitors and cleaners; heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers; and police and sheriff’s officers.

Usually, such injuries and illnesses are covered by the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance. At other times, an injured employee can file a lawsuit.


The Workers’ Compensation System

Workers’ compensation is designed to protect employees who are injured at work and to protect employers from the need to defend against worker-injury lawsuits. Employees receive payments for medical and other costs for a work-related injury or illness without having to sue their employers. Workers’ compensation is paid for by employers and administered by the states.

Even if a worker is injured due to negligence on the part of the employer or a fellow employee, the law generally limits the worker to remedies available under the workers’ compensation system. These benefits are limited and pay a portion of lost wages, medical bills and some other expenses. They do not compensate for pain and suffering.

If an employer does not carry workers’ compensation insurance, an injured employee might be able to sue in civil court or collect money from a state fund.


Third-Party Claims

If your injury was caused not by your employer or a fellow employee, but by a third party like a contractor, subcontractor, or on-site engineer, you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit. Third-party claims also apply when someone is injured by a third party while driving a company car.

In a personal injury case, an injured worker is entitled to recover all of his or her medical bills and lost wages. In addition, the worker can be compensated for pain and suffering.


Employer Disregard

If an employer hurts an employee on purpose, like during a heated argument, most states allow the employee to file a personal injury lawsuit. States not allowing this type of lawsuit are Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia and Wyoming.

In about a dozen states, an injured employee can sue outside of the workers’ compensation system if the employer does something that is grossly negligent or reckless, amounting to intentional harm.

In addition, employers are expected to abide by the guidelines of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which was passed in 1970 to reduce workplace hazards through implementation of safety and health programs. Complaints about workplace safety may be filed with OSHA.


Other Workplace Injury Lawsuits

If a worker is injured by a machine or piece of equipment that is defective, failed to work properly or is inherently dangerous, and the manufacturer failed to properly warn, the injured worker may be able to file a products liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of the product.

A worker who is injured by a toxic substance in the workplace – like asbestos, benzene, chromium compounds, silica and radium – may be able to bring a toxic tort lawsuit against the manufacturer of that substance.

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