One of the first questions an injured worker has after a work accident is whether they can bring a lawsuit against their employer for fault in causing the accident. It’s one of the first issues our work accident attorneys resolve.
Workers injured in accidents at work are often prohibited from suing an employer in a work injury lawsuit based on negligence or fault in causing the accident. This is the law in many states and it stems from workers’ compensation laws.
For example, a roofing worker who falls from a roof due to lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) may want to sue his employer who prevented workers from using PPE because of time constraints. This is a classic example where the employee would probably be barred from suing the employer, who was technically at fault for causing the accident to occur.
However, there are several exceptions to this rule, which is known as the principle of workers’ compensation exclusivity, i.e., workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy for a work injury.
In general, workers’ compensation laws in the U.S. allow an injured worker to recover for a work accident regardless of who is at fault, although what an employee can recover tends to be limited (i.e., employees generally cannot recover pain and suffering damages). Injured workers are usually limited to receiving medical benefits and indemnity (lost wages). In exchange for the right to receive these workers’ compensation benefits, the worker gives up the right to sue the employer for negligence, where the injury occurred during the course and scope of employment. California, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are some of the many states which follow this scheme.
The workers’ compensation exclusivity rule usually operates by statute and applies to all types of negligence claims, including respondeat superior, negligent hiring/retention, negligent supervision, etc.
Exceptions Vary State by State
There are several well-established exceptions to the workers’ compensation exclusivity principle, including:
- intentional torts,
- personal nature/animus (third party attack),
- ratification of intentional conduct of employee,
- dual capacity, and
- failure to insure.
For instance, in California an employer who engages in intentional conduct may be subject to liability outside of workers’ compensation. In California, intentional conduct is usually defined as conduct which cannot be considered to be a normal risk of employment or is contrary to fundamental public policy. In addition to California, many states recognize the intentional tort exception, whether by statute or case law. Below are some examples of laws or cases across the U.S. which recognize this exception.
- Section 303 of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, 77 P.S. § 481
- Martin v. Lancaster Battery Co., 530 Pa. 11 (1992) (Injured worker may be able to bring a tort claim against the employer for willful conduct, i.e., that which rises to the level of criminal conduct.)
- Laidlow v. Hariton Machinery Co., Inc., 171 N.J. 334 (2002) (NJ courts apply a high standard to establish intentional wrong – the employer must have known that the consequences of the act were substantially certain to result in harm; NJ courts also employ a 2-prong test: 1. the injured worker must show there was a substantial certainty of injury; and 2. the injury and circumstances surrounding it cannot be part of the usual work life.)
- Florida Statutes § 440.11 (1)(b) (Florida courts require clear and convincing evidence that an employer “deliberately intended to injure.”)
Work Injury Accidents – Get Legal Help Now
If you have questions about a work accident and would like to know whether you have legal rights beyond workers’ compensation, contact our work accident lawyers. Our firm has the resources to handle cases across the country and has obtained settlements and verdicts totaling over $150 million in work accident cases alone. Call for a free consultation. Click To Call
**This website does not provide legal advice. Every case is unique and it is crucial to get a qualified, expert legal opinion prior to making any decisions about your case. See the full disclaimer at the bottom of this page.