It’s difficult to know where to turn if you get hurt at work. Although getting medical care for a workplace injury should be your number-one priority, it is also important to consider speaking to a lawyer if you are hurt on the job.
Generally, workers’ compensation is the primary recourse employees have after a workplace injury. Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system, which means you don’t have to file a lawsuit against your employer. Rather, your employer files a claim with its workers’ comp insurance carrier, which in turn provides coverage for medical expenses and part of your lost income.
In the majority of circumstances, workers’ compensation is the only option injured workers have to recoup their losses. However, there are limited exceptions to this rule that enable workers to sue their employers for an on-the-job accident.
Suing an Employer That Doesn’t Have Workers’ Compensation Insurance
The vast majority of businesses in North Carolina are required to have workers’ compensation insurance. Most employers with three or more workers must be insured (although there are several exceptions).
Employers that don’t carry workers’ compensation insurance when it is legally required expose themselves to liability for workplace injuries. If your employer is uninsured, you may be able to file a lawsuit to recover all of the damages you have incurred (as opposed to the limited benefits available through workers’ comp).
Suing an Employer That Causes a Workplace Injury
If your employer has workers’ compensation insurance, fault is generally not a consideration. Even if the carelessness of an employer or employee was a potential factor in the workplace accident, the availability of workers’ compensation benefits typically precludes the option to file suit.
However, you may be able to bring a claim against your employer if intentional misconduct led to your injuries. If a workplace accident occurs as a result of an action by the employer that is “substantially certain to cause serious injury or death,” the injured worker may be able to file a lawsuit against the employer. This is known as a “Woodson claim” (so-called after Woodson v. Rowland, a landmark case heard by the North Carolina Supreme Court).
Unfortunately, many subsequent Woodson claims have demonstrated the very narrow scope the courts apply in allowing workers and surviving family members to bring liability claims against employers. As a result, it is extremely difficult to argue that you are entitled to damages beyond workers’ compensation benefits except in the most blatant instances of wrongdoing on the part of an employer.
Workers may also be able to sue if an employer or coworker causes injury as a result of criminal activity. Again, however, the circumstances under which such a claim could be initiated are limited to the most egregious acts, such as a physical assault.
Suing an Employer for Retaliation After Filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim
Employees who file for workers’ compensation are protected under the law. As such, retaliation on the part of an employer can be grounds for a lawsuit.
To recover damages, you must prove that your employer demoted you, terminated your employment, or otherwise harassed or discriminated against you after you filed a workers’ comp claim. You may be entitled to damages that are not covered by workers’ compensation, such as lost wages, loss of earning capacity, and emotional distress.
Unfortunately, employers can launch a number of defenses against retaliation claims. For example, your employer may argue that poor job performance (not the fact that you filed for workers’ comp) resulted in the adverse consequences to your employment.
Pursuing compensation for employer retaliation related to your workers’ compensation claim can be challenging. It is crucial to work with an experienced workplace injury lawyer who can collect evidence and advocate for your best interest at every stage of your case.
Suing a Third Party for Workplace Injury
Some workplace injuries truly are no one’s fault – not yours, not your employer’s, and not a coworker’s. In such a case, workers’ compensation is enormously beneficial; if you can’t prove fault, you can’t recover damages in a personal injury claim.
However, some accidents in the workplace are caused by the negligence of one or more third parties. A workplace injury attorney can investigate on your behalf to determine if any of the following scenarios may apply:
- Product liability: If a tool, piece of equipment, or other item you used on the job malfunctioned and caused your injuries, you may be able to file a product liability claim against the manufacturer.
- Premises liability: Some workplaces are unsafe due to the negligence of the party that owns or operates the property. You may be able to bring a premises liability claim against the owner or occupant for injuries stemming from unsafe conditions on the property.
- Independent contractor/subcontractor liability: Some activities in a workplace or on a job site are contracted out to one or more third parties. If the negligence of a contractor or subcontractor caused your work injury, you may be able to file a lawsuit.
- Motor vehicle accidents: Car accidents that occur in the course of your job (such as when you are driving for work or when you are performing duties in a work zone) are subject to the same rules as any other motor vehicle collision. Workers injured by careless drivers can file suit against the motorist for compensation.
It is easy to overlook how third party negligence may have contributed to an accident at work. Speaking to an attorney promptly is the best way to protect your rights and ensure that you pursue every possible avenue for recovering the compensation you deserve.
Workers’ compensation is designed to be a no-fault system. However, employees who are hurt on the job often encounter a number of hurdles when they file a claim for benefits.
Attorneys at the Whitley Law Firm can provide the knowledgeable guidance and compassionate support you need and deserve after a workplace injury. Our team understands the pressures you and your family are facing, and we will pursue all of the benefits and compensation you are due.
Please call the Whitley Law Firm at (919) 785-5000 to speak to a workplace injury lawyer in Raleigh, Kinston, or New Bern today. It won’t cost anything to see if we can help.