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What Is Workers' Compensation Law?

Workers' compensation insurance is state-mandated insurance that pays employees' medical bills, lost wages, and partial disability benefits for workplace injuries and illnesses. Employers with even one employee must carry workers' comp insurance.

Workers' comp is no-fault insurance. Employees receive medical treatment for all work-related injuries and illnesses, no matter who is at fault. In return, injured workers waive all rights to sue employers for negligence.

If a workers' comp claim was that straightforward, employees would never need legal advice. Unfortunately, there are many situations when employers or insurance companies may deny part or all of a claim. Sometimes, a third party causes an on-the-job injury, and workers' compensation will not cover you.

In these cases, you need a workers' compensation attorney. Read on to learn more about workers' compensation law and how an attorney can help your case.

What Is Workers' Compensation Insurance?

Every state except Texas requires private employers to have workers' compensation insurance for their employees. Workers' comp protects workers who suffer injuries and illnesses caused by conditions at their workplace. Workers' compensation covers:

  • Serious work injuries that need medical attention
  • Injuries during lunch breaks, work activities, and on company property
  • Work-related illness due to exposure to chemicals or toxins
  • Preexisting conditions aggravated by work conditions, if the employer knew of the conditions and the need for accommodations
  • Psychological illness due to stress or harassment if the employer knew of the issue and did not correct it

Workers' comp does not cover minor injuries and illnesses. It also will not cover intentional misuse of property or illegal acts by employees.

Workers' comp is only intended to cover medical expenses. Most employers have coverage that provides partial wages. In general the goal of workers' comp is to cover costs and return the employee to work as soon as possible. Workers' comp benefits may include short- or long-term disability benefits. In some states, workers' comp may only last until your Social Security disability benefits begin. You'll need to check your state's laws with a workers' compensation lawyer.

For definitions of relevant worker's compensation legal terms, visit the FindLaw Legal Dictionary.

Who Does Workers' Comp Cover?

In all states with workers' compensation coverage, all employees are covered while they are at work. This may include:

  • Full-time employees
  • Part-time employees
  • Temporary workers
  • Independent contractors, if they must be on property to fulfill a job-related role
  • Volunteers in some circumstances, such as volunteer firefighters on duty

States enacted workers' comp laws to avoid extensive litigation of personal injury claims. Workers' comp also takes the place of the employee's own health insurance for medical care and recovery.

Who Is Not Covered?

Each state has its own rules for workers' compensation benefits. Not all states require coverage for all workers. Some states may not require coverage for:

  • Domestic workers such as housekeepers, nannies, or babysitters
  • Seasonal employees
  • Agricultural employees
  • Volunteers

Undocumented immigrants should discuss their legal rights with a workers' comp attorney. Only one state, Wyoming, has laws that specifically prohibit undocumented immigrants from making a workers' compensation claim. More than half the states have statutes and case law that permit undocumented immigrants to make workers' compensation claims.

Public policy tends to encourage settling workers' compensation cases in favor of undocumented immigrants. The remaining state statutes are unclear on the status of undocumented immigrants or "alien workers." State laws change rapidly, so speak with an attorney before beginning the claims process.

Other Considerations for Your Workers' Comp Case

Workers' compensation insurance only covers an injured employee for work-related conditions. It will not cover you if a third party caused your injury. The workers' compensation system will deny your claim if an outside party, such as a vendor or contractor on the job site, caused the injury. You may need a personal injury lawyer to help cover out-of-pocket costs that your health insurance does not cover.

Workers' compensation also does not cover accidents or injuries where the worker was at fault. For instance, workers who caused a car accident having forklift races in the warehouse would not be covered, even though it was technically a workplace accident.

Getting Legal Help

Your workers' comp claim needs legal representation. Even if it seems straightforward, you should have a workers' compensation lawyer in your state review any settlement offer from your employer or the workers' compensation insurance company.

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