When recovering from a workplace injury, workers’ compensation payments can feel like too little money for your suffering. This is particularly true if you worry that you’ll never work again. Workers’ compensation payments are, of course, better than nothing. But if you are in pain and your life changed a great deal thanks to a permanent disability, you may wonder if your employer owes you any other, perhaps more robust, compensation. We hear from readers quite often in this situation and understand the sense of injustice you may feel. In fact, one reader recently wrote in to ask: “When can I sue my employer if I’m on workers’ comp benefits?”
When Can I Sue My Employer?
Question from a reader: “I am receiving workman’s comp already, but want to know if I can still sue my employer. When, exactly, can I sue my employer after I’m hurt on the job? Thanks!”
Answer: In most cases, you can’t sue your employer for a workplace injury.
In fact, states designed the entire workers’ compensation system to stop you from doing exactly that. Let us explain: When a business, organization, or other place of employment purchases workers’ compensation insurance for their employees, they do so for an important reason. Because it protects them from facing personal injury claims — just like the one you’re asking about — brought against them by their employees.
By taking workers’ comp payments, you give up your right to sue your employer. And that’s still true even if the employer’s clearly at fault for your injury.
Can I Sue My Employer if I’m a Federal Employee?
To answer this question in more detail, it’s important to consider whether you work for the federal government. Federal employees can never sue the federal government for on-the-job injuries or deaths. According to the law, federal workers’ compensation benefits under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act of 1971 (FECA) are the sole remedy for employees who suffer work-related injuries or deaths. An injured federal employee or surviving dependent cannot sue the United States or recover damages under any other law.
If you’re not a federal worker, then your state’s laws apply. However, if you’re getting workers’ comp benefits, then generally, you cannot sue your employer. Most people can only sue if they’re wrongfully denied workers’ comp or their employer doesn’t carry insurance coverage in violation of local laws.
Who Designed This System?
According to SSA.gov, states regulate most workers’ compensation programs in the United States via laws adopted throughout the nation in the early 1900s. The first state to pass such a law was Wisconsin, with several others following shortly after. All states had workers’ comp programs by the mid-1900s.
The agreements made in all states upon the adoption of workers’ compensation statutes had two common clauses:
- Benefits would be provided to injured workers without regard to fault.
- In return, employers would face limited liability.
Let’s see if we can clarify by putting it another way. These laws state that workers are entitled to benefits for injuries caused by their employment, regardless of who caused the injury. Employers are responsible for specific benefits itemized under the law. As a result, no legal action is required or permitted. In one sense, these laws are good for workers because they limit employer risk. Lowered overall risk means the business or organization can hire more people and grow over time. But that may come as a small comfort to you after a career-ending injury.
For more than a hundred years now, employers struggled to figure out fair workers’ compensation amounts due to employees. States try to calculate future wage losses for every injured person. However, estimating those amounts is not an exact science.
Check with An Expert Advocate
Each circumstance is highly unique and there are always exceptions to the information provided above. You might indeed have good reason to sue your employer. The best person to give you the real answer based on your injury, location, and specific workplace will always be a workers’ comp attorney in your state.
Ready to see if you may qualify? Complete your free online workers’ compensation case evaluation now!
Laura Schaefer is the author of The Teashop Girls, The Secret Ingredient, and Littler Women: A Modern Retelling. She is also an active co-author or ghostwriter of several nonfiction books on personal and business development. Laura currently lives in Windermere, Florida with her husband and daughter and works with clients all over the world. Visit her online at lauraschaeferwriter.com and linkedin.com.