Can I Sue My Employer for an Injury on the Job in California?By Kenton Koszdin on May 26, 2023 | In Workers Compensation
You may be wondering, “Can I sue for a workplace injury?“. Many employees mistakenly believe that injured workers may not sue their employers after an on-the-job accident and must rely solely on workers’ compensation for help covering their losses. But workers’ compensation laws establish an injured worker’s right to sue their employers under certain circumstances.
If you have suffered an injury at work, you deserve compensation for your losses. Contact a Los Angeles workers’ compensation lawyer before filing your workers’ compensation claim to find out whether you also have a claim against your employer.
The Exclusivity of the Workers’ Comp System in Los Angeles
“I was injured at work; can I sue?” is a common question we receive. Often, the answer is “No”. But not always.
The workers’ compensation system is designed to replace lawsuits against employers for on-the-job injuries. Instead of suing for work injury damages, injured workers file a workers’ compensation claim for limited benefits.
Because the workers’ compensation system is a no-fault system, workers need not worry about who was responsible for their injuries. They simply need to file a claim to receive workers’ compensation benefits.
The trade-off for not having to build a case against employers is the limited availability of funds through workers’ comp. Workers’ compensation insurance benefits allow for far fewer forms of compensation than personal injury claims do. However, you may still have an avenue to sue your employer after a workplace injury under certain circumstances.
Circumstances Allowing You to Sue for a Workplace Injury
California law explicitly states the situations in which you may bring a lawsuit against your employer instead of or in addition to filing a workers’ compensation claim. If you are eligible to do so, you will have access to many more forms of compensation than you would through a workers’ compensation claim.
After a workplace injury, it is important to speak with an experienced lawyer with a history of representing injured workers. They will review your case to determine whether suing for workplace injury is possible outside of workers’ compensation.
- Lack of Workers’ Comp Insurance: All employers with at least one employee must purchase workers’ compensation insurance in California. By doing so, an employer becomes immune to most personal injury claims and lawsuits relating to workplace injuries. If your employer fails to carry the required workers’ comp coverage, you can bring a claim or lawsuit against them for your injuries.
- Intentional Harm Caused by Employer: You can sue your employer for work injuries if you can prove that they intentionally harmed you or caused you to be harmed. Endorsing or encouraging another employer to harm you is one example. In every case, your employer’s actions must be intentional and more than just negligent.
- Fraudulent Concealment: Fraudulent concealment occurs when an employer is aware of a dangerous situation that could potentially harm their employees. However, instead of warning the workers about the hazard, the employer conceals its existence or provides employees with misleading information. If an employee subsequently falls ill or becomes injured by the hazard, the injured worker can file a claim for compensation against the employer for their injuries.
Fraudulent concealment does not apply if the employer does not know about the hazard, even if they should have known. If they did not know but should have known, then the employer would be negligent, and the claim would be handled by workers’ compensation.
- Dual Capacity: You can potentially sue your employer for work-related injuries if they caused your injuries while acting in a role other than your employer. For instance, if an employee purchases dangerously defective tools made by their employer and is then harmed by the tools, the employer can be held to face a claim or lawsuit for compensation.
- Power Press: The power press exception applies when an employer alters a power press machine by removing the machine’s point of operation guard. The point of operation of a power press machine, also known as the strike zone, is the area of the machine where the material being manufactured receives a strike, press, punch, or some other type of force.
Sadly, bad-acting employers sometimes remove point-of-operation guards to speed up production. When they do, workers face loss of fingers, hands, or arms and may sue their employer for their injuries.
If your workplace injury has occurred under any of these circumstances, get in contact with a workers’ comp attorney to review your case. They will work to help you recover the full amount of the benefits and damages you are entitled to.
What Happens When Exposure Occurred Long Before My Illness Appeared?
Workers who are injured or become sick while on the job generally have one year to file a workers’ compensation claim. If they do not do so within this time, their claim will become invalid. However, for those workers who fall ill due to exposure to dangerous substances or materials, the one-year period does not start until that worker becomes aware of the illness.
For example, if a worker breathes in toxic gases while at work but does not get sick until a year later, the worker will have a year from the time the sickness manifested – not from the time they were exposed to the toxic material.
What If I Played a Role in My Accident at Work?
If you are partially to blame for your work-related injury, you may still be eligible to collect workers’ compensation benefits. You may also still have the right to sue your employer if the circumstances allow them to face liability.
However, certain actions will bar you from collecting workers’ compensation benefits:
- Being on drugs or alcohol while on the job;
- Horsing around while on the job;
- Intentionally causing an injury to yourself;
- Initiating a fight while on the job.
If you are otherwise able to bring a claim or lawsuit against your employer, these activities will not necessarily disqualify you from doing so. To understand the degree to which your actions affect your job injury case, contact an experienced lawyer for help.
What if My Injury Occurred Outside of Work?
Workers’ compensation claims are typically only available for injuries that occur while at work. The same holds for suing for injury at work when the employer is the target. However, in some circumstances, you can file a lawsuit or workers’ comp claim when not at your customary place of business.
For example, suppose that your employer sends you to run an errand for work and you are injured in a car crash. You can potentially seek workers’ comp benefits. Additionally, if the employer provides you with a vehicle they know to be dangerous but fails to warn you of the danger, you may also file a claim directly against your employer.
Third-Party Claims and Workers’ Comp
A third-party claim is a claim an injured worker files against someone other than their employer. When filing a third-party claim, workers can seek compensation for losses that workers’ compensation claims do not cover, including:
- Full compensation for lost wages;
- Pain and suffering;
- Loss of enjoyment of life;
- Emotional distress.
The focus of a third-party claim is typically a negligent or otherwise unlawfully acting party other than the employer, such as:
- A customer or client;
- An employee of another company;
- A negligent motorist;
- A negligent property owner.
For example, if you are a delivery driver and a drunk driver injures you in a crash, you can’t sue work for injury, but you can file a third-party suit against the drunk driver, as well as seek workers’ compensation benefits.
Pros and Cons of Workers’ Comp Claims and Lawsuits
The main benefit of workers’ compensation claims is the lack of requirements workers must fulfill to get benefits like coverage of medical expenses. There is no need to build a case of negligence against an employer, supervisor, or coworker.
The downside of workers’ comp claims is that they offer limited economic compensation and no compensation for non-economic losses.
A personal injury claim, on the other hand, allows an injured employee to seek far more compensation for job-related injuries than workers’ comp. However, when suing an employer for injury damages or suing a third party, the employee must build a strong case against and fight against barriers to compensation.
Suing Your Employer for Injury
If you have suffered a serious injury and believe your employer may be held liable, there are certain steps to take to help you receive the compensation you deserve.
1. Report Your Injury to Your Employer
After you are injured, you must inform your employer of the incident within 30 days.
2. Seek Medical Treatment
Workers’ comp will cover your medical bills, but you must seek timely medical care after your accident for this to happen. If you don’t, there may be some doubt as to the cause and severity of your injuries.
3. Take Copious Notes
Your version of the events will be important if you sue your employer. You should write down a thorough account of the accident. Because your statement is more reliable the closer to the accident you record it, the sooner you accomplish this task, the better.
4. Call a Lawyer for a Free Consultation
Reach out to a professional to help you hold your employer responsible and strengthen your claim.
5. File Your Claim and Sue Your Employer for Injury
Take swift legal action and file your workers’ comp claim, as well as a claim or lawsuit against your employer, before time runs out.
6. Follow Through with Your Claim and Treatment
Follow through with all medical treatment you receive and stay abreast of your compensation claims.
Contact a Los Angeles Workers’ Compensation Attorney
Kenton Koszdin Law Office is ready to help you hold your employer or another negligent party accountable and make them pay for the work injury you have suffered. We will not back down from a fight when our client deserves justice.
If you have been injured at work, take action and contact our office for a free consultation and case review. A seasoned workers’ comp lawyer is ready to discuss your case and the options you have for moving forward.