Workers' Compensation cases vary from personal injury actions in many ways. Personal injury is based on fault. But if an employee gets injured on the job, he or she was entitled to workers' compensation benefits whether the employer is at fault or not.
Workers' compensation is often the only remedy for work-related injuries or illnesses. The law requires employers to compensate injured employees for lost wages and medical expenses. In exchange for workers' compensation benefits, employees cannot sue their employer for negligence when workers' compensation is available--most of the time.
Under certain circumstances, however, both workers' compensation and personal injury law come into play. If an employee gets injured in an automobile accident while he's driving a company vehicle or the employee's vehicle for work-related purposes, the employer is obligated to pay workers' compensation. If the other driver is at fault, the employee can make a claim for personal injuries against the at-fault driver for damages and also file a workers' compensation claim with his or her employer.
In another scenario, if an electrician on a construction job falls from scaffolding improperly installed by another contractor, the electrician can file for workers' compensation benefits as well as sue the potentially at-fault contractor for negligence.
If the employer's conduct is reckless or egregious, aka seriously bad, the employee may be able to sue the employer for damages beyond what's available through workers' compensation. Employers that do not provide appropriate safety training; require employees to work without protective equipment, or make them perform a job that runs afoul of safety standards could face liability if an employee gets hurt.
Other exceptions to workers' compensation limits include injuries caused by defective products, tools or equipment, toxic substances or if the employer does not carry workers' compensation insurance.
Note that if an employee brings a third-party lawsuit against that contractor or that at-fault driver, the workers' compensation insurance carrier can file a claim against the settlement or damages award to recoup what it paid for your claim. If that seems unfair, we agree, but it's the law. Routinely the personal injury attorney will negotiate with the representative of the worker's compensation carrier and will convince them to accept much less than what they actually paid.
Because workers' compensation only offers a limited amount of benefits, does not account for pain and suffering and comes with some pretty complex conditions, it's important to understand when and how to navigate outside of the workers' compensation system. An experienced personal injury attorney can help determine if and when to pursue a case.