Can You Sue Your Employer If You’re Hurt on the Job?

Workplace accidents happen all the time, but in many cases, these accidents are preventable. If you slip and fall due to poorly maintained premises, or if you’re hurt by a defective machine that should have been replaced months ago, you might consider opening a lawsuit. But is it possible to sue your employer if you’re hurt on the job? And if so, how would you go about this process?

How Workers’ Compensation Insurance Works

Everything starts with workers’ compensation insurance (typically referred to as workers’ comp). Most states require employers to carry worker’s comp as a way to protect employees and themselves. It works pretty simply. Employers pay this insurance the same way they’d pay any insurance; it’s an additional cost of doing business. If an employee is hurt (or killed) on the job, for any reason, regardless of who is at fault, workers’ comp can activate and cover any medical expenses or lost wages faced by the injured employee. In the event of death, it may pay out death benefits to the victim’s family.

Usually after an injury, you and/or your supervisor will need to fill out an injury report. This is a formal document for the business that’s designed to accurately account for the details leading up to the injury. After that, you’ll have the option to fill out workers’ compensation paperwork; if you do, you’ll be entitled to this compensation.

However, you should know that if you agree to take workers’ compensation, you’ll be forfeiting any right to sue your employer; this is how workers’ comp protects employers. It’s a tradeoff—you can be compensated for any injury, without needing to prove negligence or fault, but in exchange, you can’t bring additional legal action against your employer.

There are only a handful of exceptions here, such as if you were exposed to known hazardous materials, like asbestos.

Suing Your Employer

If you believe your employer was negligent, resulting in your injury, you have to consider talking to a personal injury attorney and you will also have the option to sue the employer. However, in most of these cases, you’ll need to waive the workers’ comp option. If this is the case, you’ll still need to fill out the accident report, and you’ll go to the hospital and/or seek medical treatment as necessary.

There are three potential scenarios where suing your employer would make sense:

  1. Your employer intentionally hurt you. First, if your employer knowingly hurt you, you may be able to sue them for intentional harm. For example, if you have proof that your employer knowingly sabotaged your work station, which resulted in your injury, you could sue them. You could also sue them for intentionally shoving you down a flight of stairs.
  2. Your employer doesn’t have workers’ comp insurance. Just because employers are legally required to have workers’ comp insurance doesn’t mean they will. Some employers attempt to circumvent this rule to save a bit of money. If you find out that workers’ comp isn’t available, you can absolutely sue your employer for the costs associated with your injury.
  3. Your employer’s negligence was responsible for your injury, and workers’ comp is not sufficient. You may also be able to sue your employer if their negligence resulted in your injury, and if workers’ comp isn’t sufficiently covering damages related to that injury. For example, if your employer has notoriously lax inspection standards, and those standards result in unsafe operating conditions, you may be able to sue if and when those unsafe conditions lead to an injury whose full extent isn’t covered by workers’ comp.

Proving the Case

The challenging part of suing your employer is proving that negligence or intentional harm occurred. In court, you’ll be required to prove not only that your employer had some specific duty, but they also breached that duty. You’ll also need to prove the chain of causation that stemmed from this breach of duty and resulted in your injury, and prove the extent of your injuries (including your subjective pain and suffering). You can use a mix of evidence here, including medical bills, photos, videos, and eyewitness testimonies, but any flaw in your case could seriously jeopardize your chances.

Talking to a Lawyer

If you’ve been injured on the job and you aren’t sure whether you should take workers’ comp, or if you aren’t sure what your options are, the best thing to do is talk to a lawyer. Most personal injury lawyers offer a free initial consultation, and would be happy to discuss the details of your case with you. From there, you can take their advice, and make a decision on how to move forward, whether it’s accepting workers’ comp insurance or bringing a case against your employer.

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