Workers’ Compensation Law in Pennsylvania – The Exclusive Remedy
As a general rule, after a work accident occurs in Pennsylvania, an injured worker is usually limited to receiving workers’ compensation benefits. This is mandated under Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law and is known as the exclusivity principle. However, this only applies against the employer. This rule does not apply to other claims (tort/injury claims) against other parties. Click here for part 1 of this article to read about work accident lawsuits against employers in Pennsylvania.
For example, a worker falls from a ladder and sustains physical injuries. The worker’s sole claim against the employer is a workers’ compensation claim for medical treatment and indemnity pay (lost wages). However, if the ladder was defective, the injured worker would have a valid claim against the manufacturer/retailer of the ladder.
Exceptions to the Exclusivity Principle
In addition, like many other states, Pennsylvania courts recognize exceptions to the general rule that an injured worker cannot sue their employer.
Some of the most commonly litigated exceptions include:
- employer’s failure to provide workers’ compensation benefits,
- employer’s intentional conduct, and
- the injury/accident occurred due to a reason personal to the employee.
Employer Failed to Obtain/Provide Workers’ Compensation Benefits
95% of employers in Pennsylvania are required to provide workers’ compensation benefits for employees. However, many employers do not. In these situations, injured employees can sue their employers directly and receive financial compensation for medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering.
Employer Acted Intentionally
In limited situations, an employer is liable for acting with intentional disregard for the injured employee’s health and safety. However, these cases are limited because the legal standard is so high. The employer must have acted in a reckless manner, or otherwise consciously disregarded the health/safety of the workers. Negligence (doing something you shouldn’t or failing to do something you should) or gross negligence (serious negligence) is not enough. Fraud and deceit are usually required.
Pennsylvania recognizes what is known as the “personal nature exception” to workers’ compensation exclusivity. Using this exception, an employee may get over the workers’ compensation exclusivity bar by proving that the incident was purely personal, not incidental to the work and therefore outside the course and scope of employment. A common example involves a worker who is assaulted/injured by another worker. If the assault was purely personal to the injured worker, the employer may be liable (outside of workers’ compensation).
Other, less common exceptions include:
- “special relationship” between the employer and injured party-employee,
- failure to perform an assumed duty to protect,
- negligent entrustment, and
- tort claims based on the employer’s status as a premises owner.
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