workers compensation While it is true that workers compensation benefits are considered an exclusive remedy, meaning the only way to be compensated for a workplace injury or illness is by filing a workers compensation claim, there are some situations where you may be able to file a lawsuit against the individual who actually caused the injury. This may also be true in the case of wrongful death. But first, be sure to understand the purpose of workers compensation benefits and how it works.

The Purpose of Workers Compensation Benefits

The purpose of a workers compensation claim is to ensure that employees who become injured on the job can be reimbursed for those injuries, without having to resort to the courts. The way the system works is that the injured employee receives compensation for the work-related injuries and agrees not to file a legal action against the employer. The employee is not required to prove negligence or liability in order to be compensated for his injuries, making it essentially a no-fault system.

When Can I Sue My Employer?

If you are not covered by workers’ compensation laws, meaning you are not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, you can bring a civil claim against your employer for your injuries. Also, if the injuries you sustained at work were the result of someone’s intentional conduct, you may be able to bring an action. Depending on the circumstances of your injury, you may also have claims against someone other than your employer.

Exceptions to the Rule of Exclusive Remedy

As with most things, there are many exceptions to the general rule that filing a workers compensation claim is the exclusive remedy for a workplace injury or illness. The first exception to consider is whether or not your employer is actually required to carry workers compensation insurance. Not all companies are depending on the number of employees they have. So, if your employer does not carry workers compensation insurance, even if they are supposed to carry it under the law, you may be able to file a lawsuit against your employer in civil court.
Other exceptions depend on the circumstances surrounding your injury or illness. For example, if it is determined that your injury was caused by a defective product you may  be able to sue the manufacturer of that product. The same may be true if your injury or illness was the result of a toxic substance that your employer did not know was toxic. If your injuries were caused by the intentional conduct of an employee of the company, you may be able to bring a personal injury lawsuit against those individuals and, potentially, against your employer.

Workers Compensation Benefits Do Not Cover Every Type of Injury

You should also consider the fact that workers compensation benefits do not cover all types of injuries or losses. For instance, workers compensation does not cover pain and suffering or punitive damages. Certain laws and federal agencies that govern employer conduct, such as OSHA, may impose punitive damages for certain misconduct on the part of an employer. In these cases, you may be able to bring a lawsuit for those specific damages that are not available under workers compensation.

Deciding whether to settle your workers compensation claim

In some cases, an employer will offer to settle a workers compensation claim for an amount that does not actually cover your lost wages and your medical bills. If you are concerned that the settlement offer your employer made is not sufficient, it is a good idea to consult with an attorney. It is not always good to simply allow the workers compensation judge to determine whether the settlement is fair because they typically approve the agreement as long as it isn’t unfair.

Potential Third-Party Claims

Despite the fact that workers compensation law prevents an employee from filing a lawsuit against the employer for work-related injuries, it does not prevent legal claims against a third-party, when that person’s negligence contributed to the employee’s injuries. For instance, if you are a delivery truck driver and you are injured in an auto accident caused by someone else, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver.  You can do this in addition to receiving your workers compensation benefits.
If you have questions regarding workplace injury or wrongful death lawsuits or any other workers compensation matters in Arkansas or Missouri, please contact the Cottrell Law Office for a free consultation. You can contact us either online or by calling us toll-free at (800) 364-8305.

Author Photo

Wesley Cottrell

Wes Cottrell earned his B.A. from Pittsburg State University in 1981 and his J.D. from the Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas in 1985. He was admitted to practice law in Kansas in 1986, in Missouri in 1987, in Arkansas in 1989, and Oklahoma in 1993. He is licensed to practice law in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, eastern Arkansas, western Arkansas, and western Missouri. He was Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Crawford County, Kansas from 1987-1989.

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