Personal Injury vs Workers’ Comp: 4 Differences Between Workers’ Comp & Personal Injury


Shay Fleming

When you’re injured at work, it can cause both short-term and long-term hardship while you recover from your injury and possibly deal with the long-term consequences of a disability.

Fortunately, if you suffer an injury at work, you can submit a workers’ compensation claim for benefits, or you can initiate a personal injury claim. Determining which route to take—personal injury versus workers’ comp—can be pivotal in ensuring you receive the appropriate benefits and support. Alternatively, if you feel you might qualify for both claims, how do you initiate that process?

Personal injury and workers’ compensation claims differ based on fault and compensation and have different requirements, so read more to learn how to kickstart both.

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Workers’ Comp vs Personal Injury: Key Takeaways

  • Workers’ comp provides compensation regardless of fault, while personal injury claims require proving negligence.
  • Workers’ comp covers medical expenses and lost wages, while personal injury claims offer broader compensation.
  • Filing for workers’ comp involves notifying the employer and submitting paperwork, while personal injury lawsuits entail legal procedures.
  • Personal injury claims typically have a two-year statute of limitations, while workers’ comp claims vary by state.
  • Injured individuals may file both a personal injury claim against a third party and a workers’ comp claim against their employer.
  • Hiring a lawyer is crucial for navigating the complexities of both workers’ comp and personal injury claims.

The Difference Between Workers’ Comp and Personal Injury Claims

When it comes to injuries in the workplace, the difference between workers’ compensation (WC) and personal injury (PI) claims lies in a few key factors:

Fault Determination:

  • In WC cases, fault isn’t considered; employees receive compensation regardless of fault.
  • In PI cases, fault is crucial; the plaintiff must prove negligence by another party.

Types of Compensation:

  • WC benefits cover medical expenses, lost wages, but often exclude pain and suffering.
  • PI claims allow for broader compensation, including pain and suffering.

Process of Filing:

  • WC claims involve notifying the employer and submitting paperwork.
  • PI lawsuits entail more complex legal procedures, including evidence gathering and potential court appearances.

Understanding these distinctions is essential when seeking compensation for workplace injuries.

Difference #1: Determining Fault in Workers Comp and Personal Injury

The key difference between workers’ comp and personal injury is that in workers’ comp, nobody needs to be at fault, while with personal injury, there’s typically an at-fault party.

Determining Fault for Personal Injury

In personal injury cases, someone is at fault, and it’s up to the victim to prove that the accident was caused by negligence. This negligence may not be on the employer’s part; it can be attributed to another worker or supplier or a combination of faults depending on the accident.

For example, a worker performs a task using a ladder and falls because the ladder slips. The resulting investigation reveals that the ladder’s rubber feet were missing because they were faulty and fell off. In this case, the ladder manufacturer could carry most of the blame, but the employer may be partially responsible because the equipment wasn’t properly checked.

Determining Fault for Workers’ Compensation

In most states, workers injured on the job are entitled to compensation. Fault isn’t a consideration, and the employee doesn’t have to prove who was responsible for the accident. Even if the injury was caused by negligence by the employer, a supplier, or another employee, the injured person is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. In some states, like Texas, there’s no compulsory workers’ compensation insurance, which means the injured employee has no other option but to sue for damages if their employer has no workers’ comp coverage.

Difference #2: Types of Compensation Available for Workers’ Comp and Personal Injury

Another issue for consideration when deciding whether to pursue a personal injury claim is compensation, as one more difference between workers’ compensation and personal injury claims is the level of financial compensation that an injured worker can receive as part of their claim.

Compensation for Workers’ Comp Injuries

In workers’ compensation, the benefits are determined by law, and amounts are non-negotiable. If a worker suffers a broken ankle and loses six weeks’ work, workers’ compensation will reimburse that worker a set amount. The worker may be out of pocket if their expenses exceed that amount and aren’t covered under any other provision.

Though workers’ compensation will reimburse a worker’s lost wages, pay for retraining (if necessary), and offer permanent impairment benefits, in many states, workers’ compensation includes no coverage for pain and suffering. This exclusion makes the system easier to navigate and easier to administrate, but it may not be fair for all cases.

Compensation for Personal Injury

Though the process of being reimbursed for personal injury can be more involved, it also covers a wider array of injuries. Personal injury claims cover pain and suffering but also lost earning capacity, loss of enjoyment of life, and future medical expenses, as well as other recompense not covered by workers’ compensation. Many cases fall through the cracks in workers’ compensation, and a personal injury claim may be the victim’s best shot at a fair deal.

Difference #3: Process of Filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim vs a Personal Injury Lawsuit

Yet another difference between workers’ compensation and personal injury is the process of how to file for each. While the process varies widely from state to state, in many states, workers comp claims are handled by the state, whereas personal injury claims can be handled by filing a lawsuit.

How to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit

In most states, you can only sue in response to a workplace injury if your employer lies, does something illegal (such as refusing to file your claim because they’ve intentionally mis-classified you as a contractor), or intentionally refuses to carry insurance to save money then offers to pay your bills out of their own pocket.

However, there are certain situations outside of those possibilities that may allow you to sue your employer. You may be able to sue your employer if you were injured at work by:

  • A defective product
  • Exposure to a toxic substance, such as asbestos
  • Negligence by another employee

Additionally, if you were injured at work in Texas where it isn’t mandatory for employers to offer workers’ compensation, you have two additional options:

  • You may file a personal injury lawsuit against your employer
  • You may file a claim against the private insurance provider of your employer

The situations in which you can file a personal injury lawsuit against your employer can be nuanced, so consider speaking to a personal injury lawyer to determine if you qualify.
Getting Injured at Work

How to File a Workers’ Compensation Claim

The process for filing a a claim for a workplace accident varies from state to state, but many elements are the same. Here are a few essential steps you’ll need to take to file for workers compensation:

  1. Inform your supervisor of the injury as soon as you are aware of it. From there, your employer will give you the necessary paperwork to file a claim with their insurance company (if they have one).
  2. Seek medical treatment for your injury.
  3. Fill out any paperwork provided by your employer to gather information about the injury, how it occurred, and any witnesses of the event.

Unless you’re a federal employee, the specific laws of your state will inform how the process of handling a work-related injury is handled. Some aspects that may vary from state to state include:

  • The specific steps you must follow in order to apply for benefits
  • If any employees are exempt from workers’ compensation coverage
  • The deadline by which you can file your claim
  • Whether or not you can choose your own doctor
  • How many days you must miss before you qualify for wage loss benefits
  • The process, forms, and deadlines associated with appealing a denied workers’ comp claim
  • How long you can receive workers’ compensation
  • What amount you may qualify for in a lump-sum settlement
  • And more

Due to how complex the process of recovering compensation can be, you should consider hiring a workers compensation attorney to handle your case.

Difference #4: Filing Deadlines for Workers’ Comp and Personal Injury

The last major difference between submitting a workers’ compensation claim and a personal injury claim is the timeline you have to file it. While the exact length of time can vary from state to state, the typical statue of limitations to sue for personal injury is two years, while the timeline to recover damages for workers comp benefits is typically between one and three years, depending on the state.

Can You File a Workers’ Compensation Claim AND a Personal Injury Claim?

If you are injured during an on-the-job accident in a state where workers’ compensation is mandatory, workers’ comp is your only recourse for the injury. In most cases, you are unable to sue your employer for injuries sustained on the job unless specific criteria are met.

However, if you’re injured on the job and a third party also is involved in the injury, you may be able to bring a personal injury suit against them in addition to your workers’ compensation case against your employer.

Why Hiring a Lawyer May Help You Succeed

Hiring a lawyer puts a highly trained and experienced workers compensation attorney on your side who will fight for your future by identifying every opportunity to get you the compensation you deserve. There are significant differences in how workers’ compensation is administered in every state. An experienced attorney will be able to assess your case and know whether you should pursue a personal injury claim or if workers’ compensation covers your needs.

At LegalASAP, we can ensure you find the best lawyers for personal injury. If you’re searching for legal representations and are having trouble choosing from the dozens of lawyers in the search engine listings, contact LegalASAP today for a free consultation. LegalASAP will help find the right personal injury attorney so you can focus on getting better.

Shay Fleming is the SEO Content Manager at LeadingResponse, a prominent legal marketing company. A proud graduate of Texas State University, she has been based in Austin since 2016, where she lives with her dog. Shay has contributed extensively to various domains, writing and publishing articles about real estate, investing, disability, and urban living.