When Can You Sue Your Employer For Personal Injury?

Being injured at work can be a double whammy for many employees: not only are you facing time off work and medical expenses but often you didn't even have the benefit of being injured doing something you enjoy. However, the vast majority of on-the-job injuries are covered by workers' compensation insurance; and if an employee receives workers' compensation benefits (or is entitled to receive them), this generally prevents the employee from later being able to sue the employer for personal injury. Read on to learn more about the differences between workers' compensation and personal injury law, as well as what you should do if you suffer a workplace injury.

What Injuries Does Workers' Compensation Cover? 

Every state implements its workers' compensation coverage a bit differently, but in almost all states, employers are required to carry this insurance coverage on all eligible employees. If an employee is injured on the job (and is not injured while under the influence of drugs or alcohol or while doing something illegal or prohibited), workers' compensation coverage kicks in to provide the employee with compensation for lost wages, medical expenses, and other costs associated with the injury and recuperation. 

As a caveat to this coverage, those who are injured on the job largely forfeit their right to sue an employer for personal injury, even if the injury resulted from the employer's own negligence. And because workers' compensation limits are almost always far lower than statutory caps on personal injury damages, this can mean you'll recover far less from an on-the-job injury than you would have if you'd suffered the same type of injury while off the clock.

When Can You Sue Outside the Workers' Compensation Context? 

There are a few situations in which workers' compensation coverage does not apply to a work-related injury. The first is when the employer does not carry the required amount of workers' compensation coverage (or any coverage at all). You can also sue for personal injury if your injury resulted from your employer's reckless (not just negligent) conduct. 

Employees can't usually choose to waive workers' compensation coverage in order to retain their ability to sue for personal injury; if an administrative law judge finds that workers' compensation coverage applies to the injury, this finding can strip the civil court of jurisdiction to hear the claim. Because of this, it's important that you consult a personal injury attorney shortly after your injury (and before you sign any papers) to ensure that your rights are fully protected.