Can You Sue for Work-Related Injuries?
Any injury can have catastrophic effects on your life, but a workplace injury can be particularly serious. Not only do work injuries threaten your livelihood, but they also occur in environments that may feature heavy machinery, distracted colleagues, and other dangerous conditions.
The good news is that, when work-related injuries occur in California, most workers are covered by workers’ compensation. The bad news? Sometimes, workers’ comp doesn’t cover all the damage a work injury does to your life. That leaves some injured workers wondering, “Can I sue for a work-related injury?”
In some cases, the answer may be yes. Below, the Case Barnett Law team walks you through everything you need to know. Keep reading to learn more, or contact us for help.
About California Workers’ Comp
California’s workers’ comp program requires employers to provide workers’ compensation benefits to workers who are injured on the job. Workers’ comp benefits in California include the following:
- Medical costs
- Temporary wage replacement
- Permanent wage replacement
- Death benefits to families of workers who are killed on the job
- Job training assistance if you need to switch careers
Those are great benefits, but they may leave out a few key areas if you’re seriously injured. To start, the wage replacement benefits are capped at two-thirds of your average weekly wage in most cases. Then, you have the problem of psychological and emotional damages. What if you were so seriously injured that you have mental trauma?
While workers’ comp serves an important purpose in protecting injured workers, it can fall short in some areas — areas in which a personal injury lawsuit can help immensely. But you can only file a personal injury lawsuit for a work injury under specific circumstances, which we discuss below.
Exceptions to the California Workers’ Comp Rule
Because California law requires employers to give workers’ comp benefits to injured employees, injury lawsuits are usually not allowed for workplace injuries. This gives employers peace of mind — they pay their workers’ comp insurance, and they don’t have to worry about getting sued by an injured worker.
But there are exceptions to this rule, such as the cases involving the following:
Defective Product Injuries
How did your work injury happen? If a defective product hurt you, you may be able to pursue personal injury compensation outside of the workers’ comp framework. Manufacturers are often liable for the injuries their faulty products cause, so you may be able to sue the company responsible for the product that harmed you.
For example, if you were using a forklift that malfunctioned and caused a crash that injured you, the manufacturer of the forklift could be liable for your injuries.
Injuries from a Third Party
In some cases, you can sue for a work-related injury if someone other than your employer is responsible for the accident that harmed you. For example, if you were working at a roadside construction site and a passing driver swerved off the road and hit you, the driver could be responsible for compensating you.
Intentional Conduct by Your Employer
California employers are largely protected from liability for workplace injuries, but that protection only goes so far. If your employer intentionally did something that they knew would injure you or was likely to injure you, you may be able to sue them outside of workers’ comp.
If, for example, your employer improperly modified a piece of heavy machinery that caused it to hurt you, they might be liable. Also, if your employer got upset with you and shoved or hit you in a way that caused your injury, your case may be able to leave the workers’ comp system and enter the realm of personal injury.
Sometimes, our jobs expose us to harmful chemicals that can make us sick. This may take years to occur, but when it does, workers are left with debilitating, sometimes deadly, illness. In cases, like this, you may be able to pursue personal injury compensation from the manufacturer of the harmful substance through what’s called a toxic tort.
No Workers’ Comp Insurance
California employers must obtain workers’ comp insurance or get permission from the state to insure themselves in the event of a workplace injury. If your employer did neither of those things by the time you suffered an injury on the job, you may be able to file a personal injury claim against your employer.
You’re an Independent Contractor
If you’re classified as an independent contractor, you won’t be covered under California’s workers’ compensation laws. So, what happens if you’re injured on the job as an independent contractor? Depending heavily on the circumstances surrounding the injury, you may be able to file a civil personal injury lawsuit to recover compensation for your injuries.
Sometimes, employers improperly classify their employees as independent contractors so they can avoid purchasing workers’ comp insurance. If that is the case, you may still be eligible for workers’ comp benefits. A trained attorney can help you make sense of your unique situation.
Benefits of a Personal Injury Lawsuit for a Work Injury
Why should you consider suing for a work-related injury in the first place? After all, workers’ comp covers your injury, right? As we discussed above, workers’ comp sometimes will not cover certain on-the-job injuries. Even when workers’ comp does apply, it sometimes will not cover the full extent of the harm you suffered.
A personal injury lawsuit can allow you to pursue the full value of the wages you lose as a result of your injury — instead of just a portion of them. And if you suffered any non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering or emotional trauma, you can pursue fair compensation for them through a civil injury claim.
Keep in mind, however, that you may only sue for a work-related injury under highly specific circumstances. That’s why it’s often a good idea to reach out to an attorney for help understanding your options.
Injured at Work? Call an Attorney
Can you sue for a work-related injury in California? The answer to that question will depend on the details of your unique situation. For help navigating these complex legal waters and understanding your options after a work injury, reach out to an experienced Orange County personal injury attorney at Case Barnett Law.
We’re ready to walk you through your case and, if possible, represent you in a personal injury claim. The initial consultation is free and comes with no obligations, so what do you have to lose? Give us a call at 949-409-0055 or fill out our online contact form at the bottom of this page today.