Injured on the Job: Worker’s Compensation Versus Personal Injury
When someone suffers an injury on the job, they generally have two recourses: a worker’s compensation claim or a personal injury lawsuit. In rare cases the injured party can pursue both simultaneously. In most cases they must choose one or the other.
Given the complexity of the legal issues involved, workers should seek the advice of a personal injury lawyer as soon as they suffer an injury. After hearing a client’s story and reviewing the evidence, an attorney is in the best position to advise them on the proper course of action.
The following article on the differences between workers’ compensation claims and personal injury lawsuits is designed to give employees a sense of the many legal issues involved in both types of cases, so they can make an informed decision and prepare themselves to cooperate with their attorney in the hopes of achieving the most favorable outcome.
A Matter of Assigning Blame
At the heart of the difference is the concept of blame. Worker’s compensation claims are no-fault cases, meaning that blame is never assigned. No matter who (if anyone) is at fault, an injured employee has hope of obtaining redress. Personal injury lawsuits, on the other hand, require the plaintiff (or suing party) to prove negligence, which is another phrase for assigning blame.
The difference is substantial, affecting the type and degree of compensation that plaintiffs are able to receive. That is why, before pursuing either type of claim, injured workers should always contact a personal injury attorney who can advise them on the pros and cons of each type of case. Here, for example, are some of the factors the personal injury lawyers at SMS Legal will consider when evaluating a case.
The Case for Worker’s Compensation
The no-fault provision in worker’s comp laws means that employees can seek compensation even if there has been no negligence on the part of employers. In a situation where no one is to blame for the accident, or where someone other than an employer or coworker is to blame, worker’s compensation may be the only legal option available. In fact, employees may be eligible for workers’ compensation even if they themselves were the negligent parties.
Even when there is evidence of negligence, however, filing a claim may still be the most appropriate remedy. That’s because workers have a better hope of receiving prompt payment in certain conditions. Under worker’s compensation laws, for example, employees are eligible to receive wages in the event that an injury prevents them from returning to their job. For some claimants, being able to recover lost wages may be the most important factor in their decision-making process.
The no-fault nature of a worker’s compensation claim also facilitates the recovery of medical bills, since payment is not an admission of guilt. Although the injured party still needs to overcome the administrative and legal hurdles that come with filing a claim, they don’t need to prove guilt in a court of law before collecting compensation for any medical treatment they may have had.
The Case Against Workers Compensation
Despite the many advantages of worker’s compensation, there are drawbacks as well. Foremost among those is the fact that filing a claim typically precludes initiating a personal injury lawsuit. In other words, the moment an employer pays worker’s compensation, the employee is no longer able to sue for damages; worker’s comp becomes the only legal remedy available to the injured party.
Perhaps that’s acceptable if the employer, in conjunction with the insurance company of the employer, pays the full claim amount, but sometimes they are reluctant to do so. All too often they find reasons either to deny the claim or to reduce the settlement amount. In addition, worker’s comp benefits do not include things like emotional damages; they only cover:
- Lost wages
- Disability benefits
- Medical expenses
- Retraining costs
There is therefore a clearly defined limit to worker’s comp benefits, even if an employer pays the full amount. If an injured worker feels that an employer is at fault for the accident, and should pay more than they would under limited worker’s compensation laws, then they might consider a personal injury case instead.
Pursuing a Worker’s Compensation Claim
If there is a possibility that an employee might initiate a lawsuit, then it’s best to delay or cancel the worker’s comp claim. At the very least, the lawsuit should be pursued first. On the other hand, since there is a limited timeframe in which injured workers are allowed to pursue a claim, delaying too long could jeopardize any hopes of receiving compensation. It’s important to know that if you do pursue both a lawsuit and a worker’s comp claim, then the employer’s insurance carrier may possess a lien on the lawsuit award.
For a simple worker’s compensation claim, an attorney is not necessary and would most likely not be involved. However, given the complexities involved, it is always important to speak to the personal injury attorneys at SMS Legal before filing a claim. That’s because initiating a worker’s comp claim precludes a lawsuit, and only experienced personal injury lawyers can tell an injured party whether he or she might be better served by going through the court system.
The Case for Personal Injury Lawsuits
If a worker feels that an employer has been negligent, and a personal injury attorney believes there is sufficient evidence to prove such a charge, they should consider filing a lawsuit instead of a worker’s comp claim.
Under personal injury law, the negligent party must make the injured party “whole” again. That allows plaintiffs to more assertively and actively pursue full restitution for their injuries, medical expenses, and emotional suffering.
While a worker’s comp case necessarily limits the award amount, a personal injury case does not. That leaves room for a more substantial settlement, providing the plaintiff can offer proof of negligence as well as the extent of the financial and emotional damages. In a personal injury case, a worker is capable of recovering:
- Lost wages
- Lost wage capacity
- Past medical expenses
- Future medical expenses
- Compensation for permanent impairment
- Compensation for pain and suffering
- Compensation for reduced quality of life
The Case Against Personal Injury Lawsuits
On the downside, there is no guarantee that the plaintiff will receive anything for their trouble. That’s because compensation depends not only upon proof of negligence, but also on proof that such negligence caused the injury, and that the damages from the injury equal the amount the plaintiff has demanded. If the injured party fails to meet the burden of proof, then he or she may not be able to recover any damages at all.
In general, that makes a personal injury case riskier than a worker’s compensation claim. Even if the injured party believes strongly that negligence caused the accident, the worker will not receive any compensation until the case has settled or a verdict has been delivered. Even then, it might take time to collect payment, and the worker will collect no wages in the interim if he or she is unable to work during the period of the lawsuit.
Pursuing a Personal Injury Lawsuit
In spite of the risks, there are some cases that should be pursued under personal injury laws. That’s because the law is designed to provide restitution in situations where negligence on the part of an employer or coworker has clearly been the cause of an injury. In such cases, a lawsuit may be the only hope of obtaining justice in the form of full restitution.
As long as the injured worker has weighed all the pros and cons, taken into account all of the risks, and has sought the advice of a qualified personal injury attorney, then a lawsuit makes the most sense in such a case.
If you or someone you know has suffered an injury on the job, call SMS Legal at 713-364-0723 or visit our website to obtain a free case evaluation from our personal injury attorneys. With over 100 years of combined trial experience, and over $620 million recovered on behalf of injured clients, our award-winning trial attorneys are widely recognized as top personal injury lawyers.
No matter what type of work-related accident you’ve been involved in, we can evaluate your case, provide expert legal advice, and advocate on your behalf so that you can obtain the justice you deserve.