When to File a Workers' Comp Claim vs. a Civil Suit | LabourBlawg

When to File a Civil Suit vs. a Workers’ Comp Claim

by alanbrady on February 14, 2013

Alan Brady is a writer who uses personal experience as inspiration to write about family, law, and business practices. He currently writes for attorneys.com, which locates local loan modification lawyers.


Workers’ Compensation in the United States has two important functions in society.  The first and most obvious is to protect and support workers who are injured on the job.  The second is the protection of employers from constant liability suits filed by their injured employees.  The establishment of an insurance system for workplace accidents and injuries is designed to ensure that neither party is neglected or taken advantage of.

For this reason Workers’ Compensation laws abide by a “no fault” principle, meaning that fault is irrelevant in the filing of a claim.  Eligible employees are covered regardless of whether an accident is the result of negligence on the part of the employer or the employee.  This generally means that even if a workplace is unsafe the employer is protected from liability.  However, there are some circumstances in which it is appropriate to file a civil suit, either instead of or combined with a Workers’ Compensation claim.
Workers’ protection laws vary from state to state, meaning that in some areas all employers are required to have Workers’ Compensation insurance, while in others certain types of businesses are exempt from that requirement.  In the state of Texas employers are allowed to choose whether or not they will enroll at all.  If an employer is exempt or opts out of the program, their employees are once again eligible to file suit under state and federal employment laws.

In many cases an employee does not have the option to sue the employer, but can file suit against a third party who may be responsible for the injury.  For example, if the company is located in a rented space where a safety hazard exists, and the property owner has been informed of and failed to resolve the issue, that property owner could be sued for damages resulting from any injury caused by that safety hazard.  If an employee falls and is badly hurt because of a faulty rung on a ladder, the manufacturer of the ladder can be sued.

Any employer who retaliates against an employee for filing a Workers’ Compensation claim by firing, demoting, or otherwise penalizing the worker, automatically opens themselves up to liability.  Blocking employees from exercising their rights, or manipulating the filing process to avoid having to pay benefits are both ethically wrong and legally actionable.

Employees covered by Workers’ Compensation do not relinquish their right to sue their employers under other state and federal laws.  Sexual harassment, discrimination, and hostile work environment claims are all valid depending on existing laws and precedents.  However, if medical expenses arise from those issues an employee may be eligible for both.  Imagine that a women is harassed so badly at work that she winds up needing mental health treatment.  Workers’ Compensation should cover her medical expenses, but doesn’t necessarily bar her from filing a civil suit.

Again, Workers’ Compensation laws are determined by each state, not at a national level.  Therefore it is always wise to consult with a helpful labor lawyer with experience in your area.  Having a professional to help you understand your rights and navigate the nuances of the laws and precedents related to your case can mean the difference between getting what you deserve and getting taken advantage of.

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