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What is Workers' Compensation Law?

Workers' compensation is a system of compensation which allows employees who are injured at work to obtain payment for lost wages, medical costs, and occupational rehabilitation expenses without regard to their personal negligence or fault. In exchange for this no-fault system, which means it doesn't account for an employee's personal negligence or fault, employees give up their right to sue their employers directly for negligence or other damages.

Workers' compensation insurance, often called "workers comp," is a state-mandated program consisting of payments required by law to be made to an employee who is injured or disabled in connection with work. The federal government does offer its own workers' compensation insurance for federal employees, but every individual state has its own workers' compensation insurance program. Not all states require businesses to carry workers' comp insurance, including Alabama.

Employers also benefit by being insulated from the possibility of paying large tort verdicts or settlements to injured employees in civil actions. In exchange for that protection, the employer surrenders many of the common-law defenses that otherwise would be available in civil litigation. For definitions of relevant worker's compensation legal terms, visit the FindLaw Legal Dictionary.

What Qualifies as a Work-Related Injury?

A work-related injury is one that happened while you were doing something on behalf of your employer or otherwise in the course of employment. Most injuries that can be classified as work-related are those that occur at the workplace, but also may occur in company-owned trucks and other locations as long as the employee was doing something connected to his or her job. This includes company parties and other social events sponsored by an employer, but not necessarily on company-owned property.

Only Employees are Covered

Employers in most states are required to carry workers' compensation insurance (or workers' comp), but only workers properly classified as "employees" are covered (as opposed to independent contractors). Also, Idaho and Wyoming do not require coverage of undocumented workers; but Arizona, California, Texas, and other states specifically include illegal immigrant workers in employers' workers' comp coverage.

Depending on your state, certain types of workers may not be covered by workers' comp (see a round up of Workers' Compensation Links for your state). Some examples of workers who may not be covered include:

  • Domestic workers (housekeepers, nannies, babysitters)
  • Agricultural workers
  • Seasonal workers
  • Undocumented workers

Getting Legal Help

After an on-the-job injury, it is not always clear whether you have a workers' compensation claim or a civil claim against your employer. There are lot of factors and case-specific facts that come into play when deciding which route to take. You should consult with an experienced workers' compensation or personal injury attorney. You may also want to contact the workers' compensation commissioner's office in your state.

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