Make sure you know all your legal options if you're hurt at work
Everything changes after an injury. You're in pain and wondering how to get your medical bills paid. You're looking at an uncertain future. The last thing you need is to navigate the legal implications of your injury on your own.
Depending on the circumstances of your injury, you may be able to file a personal injury claim, a workers' compensation claim, or both. While these two types of compensation cover some of the same costs, they are distinct claims with distinct rules and procedures. An experienced injury attorney can help you figure out the best way forward.
What is a personal injury claim?
A personal injury claim is a liability claim against someone whose action or inaction caused your injury. In order to win a personal injury case, you need to prove the following four elements:
- The person or organization that caused your accident owed you a duty of care — a legal responsibility for your safety.
- The duty of care was breached via action or inaction.
- The breach was the proximate cause of your injury — that is, you were injured because of the person's action or inaction.
- You suffered significant losses (damages) as a result of the injury.
For instance, motorists owe other road users a duty of care to operate their vehicles safely and responsibly. If you were hit by a distracted driver and suffered serious injuries, then you would have a claim against the distracted driver because they failed to meet that duty of care. That distracted driver (and their car insurance) should pay for your losses related to the accident, including medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. The same principle applies if you were hurt in a slip and fall on someone else's property, injured by a defective product, or hurt in any other incident caused by someone else's negligence.
What is a workers' compensation claim?
Workers' compensation is a type of insurance that protects employees who are hurt on the job. If you are injured while at work, then you can get workers' compensation.
The key difference between a personal injury claim and a workers' compensation claim is that in workers' compensation, there is no need to prove fault. You only have to prove that you were on the job when the injury happened. In other words, your injury may not have been your employer's fault, but if it happened at work, your employer's workers' compensation insurance has to pay for it.
On the other hand, workers' compensation provides limited benefits: it pays for medical expenses, partial replacement of lost wages, and certain other benefits if you have a permanent disability. It doesn't cover other costs that can be compensated for in a personal injury claim, such as pain and suffering.
Can you file both a personal injury claim and a workers' compensation claim?
A common misconception is that if you were hurt at work, you can't file a personal injury claim, only a workers' comp claim. That's not always true. What the law actually says is that you cannot sue your employer if you were hurt on the job. This also means you can't sue a coworker (that is, someone who works for the same direct employer) for an accident that happened while you were both at work. That's the tradeoff at the heart of workers' compensation: you get certain benefits from your employer no matter what, but you can't sue your employer for additional damages even if the injury was their fault.
However, this protection only applies to your employer. If you were injured by the negligence of another business or individual, you can file a personal injury claim against the at-fault party in addition to claiming workers' compensation as you would after any other work injury. We call these cases "third-party claims" in the parlance of work injury law. Some examples include:
- You were injured in a car accident caused by another driver while you were driving for work.
- You were hurt due to dangerous premises on a property managed by another company.
- You were hurt by the negligence of another company working on the same project or job site. This is a common scenario on construction sites, for instance.
- You were injured by a dangerous product.
Talk to an injury attorney about your legal options
It's important to explore all your legal options because a personal injury claim can provide compensation for losses not covered by workers' comp, such as pain and suffering or emotional distress. The total value of your injury could be much higher if you pursue all of your legal options.
That's why you need to talk to an attorney with experience handling both workers' compensation and personal injury cases. We will listen to your story, analyze your situation and advise you of your options. If you qualify for both a workers' compensation and personal injury claim, we can move those cases forward simultaneously and keep you informed every step of the way. If you've been injured and aren't sure what to do next, contact Shebell & Shebell for a free consultation.