Employer Injury Liability

When you are injured at work, in some cases your employer may be liable for that injury.  If your employer is liable, your employer may have to pay your medical bills and other damages. In some cases, if the injury causes you to be temporarily or permanently unable to work, your employer may have to pay a portion of your lost wages.

Employer liability for job-related injury is usually based on worker’s compensation law. This means that instead of suing your lawyer in court when you get hurt, you instead file a claim with your employer’s worker’s compensation insurer. Worker’s compensation insurance is a no-fault system put into place by state lawthat protects workers from on-the-job injury.

When is an Employer Liable for Injury?

Employers are only liable for work related injuries. However, determining what constitutes a work related injury can be complicated. Typically, employers are liable for injuries that occur:

  • Arose out of the employment - This means that the job must have caused or led to the injury in some way. Sometimes, this is easy to determine. If you are a construction worker and you fall off of a ladder, climbing ladders is in the course of your employment and so the injury arose out of the course of employment. At other times, this is more difficult. What if that same construction worker got struck by lightening? In that case, typically to recover he or she would have to prove that the job made getting struck by lightening more likely.
  • In the course of employment - This means the injury took place while at work. This doesn’t mean you had to be physically in the office environment. If you were driving your boss to a meeting and were injured in a car accident, this would be considered an injury that occurred in the course of employment. This becomes more complicated if you were at a work party and got hurt, or if you got hurt on your way to work. Typically, you are only entitled to recover in those cases if attendance at the work party was mandatory, or if the commuting injury occurred on the employer’s property.

Employers are not usually liable if you do something egregiously irresponsible to cause your injury. For example, if you are drunk on the job or come to work under the influence of drugs and are injured, an employer is not usually liable. If you violate explicit company policy, the employer is also usually not liable. Mere negligence on your part doesn’t usually preclude recovery, however. For example, if you were chatting with a friend and not paying 100% attention when you fell off your ladder, you could still recover for injuries sustained from the fall unless your employer explicitly prohibited chatting while on ladders.

Determining Liability

Liability is first determined by the carrier, who can either accept the claim (accept liability) or deny the claim (deny liability). Negligence on an employer’s part is not required for an employer to be liable, just as negligence on your part does not preclude liability. Worker’s compensation is considered a “no fault” system. It doesn’t matter who is at fault. It is designed to protect the worker and take the burden off of society, who might otherwise have to pay for disabled workers in the form of welfare benefits.

If the worker’s compensation insurer denies your claim, you can file an appeal. If you file an appeal, a state administrative agency will usually hear your appeal. This administrative agency then gets the opportunity to determine liability.

Legal Options

In most cases, your only legal option for recovering form your employer is to file a worker’s compensation claim. There are a few narrow exceptions to this rule. For example, if your employer hurts you intentionally or does not have state mandated worker’s compensation insurance, you may be able to file a lawsuit against your employer in court.

Potential Benefits

Worker’s compensation benefits vary depending on the severity of your illness. Medical benefits are usually standard once you have proven that your employer is liable for your injury. This includes medical treatment, such as surgeries and hospital stays, with the doctor of your choice.

If you are temporarily or permanently unable to work as a result of your illness, potential benefits include short-term disability benefits or long-term disability benefits.  To recover disability benefits, your doctor must generally restrict you from working.

Disability benefits are based on a percentage of your salary. If you are unable to work in any job, these long-term disability benefits may be paid indefinitely. You may also be entitled to job retraining or vocational benefits if you are able to work but unable to return to your previous job due to the nature of your injury. If someone is killed as a result of a job related injury, potential benefits include death benefits and burial benefits.

How a Lawyer Can Help

An attorney can help you to maximize your chances of having your worker’s compensation claim approved. Experienced job injury attorneys can help investigate your injury and help prove the necessary requirements in order to recover. If your claim is denied, an attorney can help you understand the appeals process and make sure you get the benefits to which you are entitled. 

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