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Workers' Compensation: Can I Sue My Employer Instead?

Generally, you are barred from suing your employer for a workplace injury. This is because when employers provide workers' compensation insurance for the benefit of their employees, they are typically protected from defending personal injury claims brought by those employees.

This workers' compensation system was established as a trade-off in which injured employees give up their right to sue employers in court in exchange for the right to receive workers' compensation benefits, regardless of who was at fault for their injuries. This is known as a no-fault system. However, there are some important exceptions.

Read on to learn more about these exceptions.

Suit for an Employer's Intentional Torts

If you were injured at work and you believe your employer intentionally caused you this harm, you can bring a suit for an intentional tort in civil court. Tort injuries include not only physical harm but also non-physical injuries, such as emotional distress.

Here are the most common intentional torts:

  • Battery -- injury to your person (i.e., you have been hit by someone or something)
  • Assault -- an attempted battery, or the threat to commit a battery
  • False Imprisonment — confinement against your will, without legal authority
  • Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress -- you have been emotionally traumatized by truly terrible conduct
  • Fraud -- someone lied to you and it caused you to suffer injury
  • Defamation -- when someone says something false about you and it causes you harm, including libel and slander
  • Invasion of Privacy — there are four types of invasion of privacy, but it generally means either your private information or photos of you were exposed to a large audience
  • Conversion -- when someone takes your property and makes it their own
  • Trespass — someone entered your property or used your property without your permission

Suit for Injuries Caused by Third Parties

If you were harmed at work and you believe someone other than you or your employer was responsible (i.e., a third party), you have the option to sue that party. For example, if you believe your injury was caused by defective equipment, you can file suit against the equipment's manufacturer. However, if you are awarded damages you may have to pay a portion of the recovery back to your employer or your employer's insurance company, to repay the workers' compensation benefits that you received. Most likely, your employer and its insurer may be allowed to become parties to your lawsuit to recover the value of the paid workers' compensation benefits for themselves.

Suit for the Wrongful Denial or Termination of Workers' Compensation Benefits

Usually, workers' compensation claims are pursued through the administrative process and not through the court system. You cannot appeal your benefits award until the administrative process has been completely exhausted, and all parties have taken every step they can to settle a claim. Then, you must appeal to a special workers' compensation board or a specially nominated court. Only after you have satisfied all statutory process requirements can you seek redress in the civil court system. This process is specifically controlled by each state. To be certain you are fully aware of your rights, you should retain an attorney familiar with the workers' compensation system in your state.

Can You Sue Your Employer? A Workers' Comp Lawyer Can Help

It's not always clear whether you have a workers' compensation claim or a civil claim against your employer, and making that determination often requires the expertise of a trained attorney.

If you need help figuring out your next steps, consider having an experienced workers' compensation attorney guide you through the process.

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Contact a qualified workers' compensation attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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