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Workers’ Comp vs. Personal Injury

When workers get hurt on the job, they are faced with a number of difficult questions. Who will pay for my medical care? How long will I be out of work? Can I make up the wages I lose?

Fortunately, injured workers have multiple legal options for recovering compensation after a workplace accident. Although workers’ compensation is perhaps the most familiar option, you may have one or more additional claims.

At the Whitley Law Firm, our attorneys explore all of your options for recovery after a workplace accident. Contact a work injury lawyer in Raleigh, Kinston, or New Bern today for a free case review.

What Is the Difference Between Workers’ Comp and Personal Injury Claims?

It is important to know the full scope of your legal rights if you have been hurt on the job. You may have multiple options for filing a claim after a workplace injury, but it is crucial to know the different rules that apply, the procedures involved, the varying time limits, and more.

Fault and Liability

One of the major differences between a workers’ compensation claim and a personal injury lawsuit is the question of fault. Workers’ comp is a no-fault system. You do not need to prove that your employer or a coworker caused your injury to claim benefits. In fact, the circumstances where an employer can be sued are extremely limited.

As a result, personal injury claims involving workplace accidents must generally be brought against third parties. Liable parties may include the owner of the property where you work (a premises liability claim) or the manufacturer of a defective product. You must present evidence of the other party’s negligence to recover compensation in a personal injury claim.


Another key difference between workers’ comp and personal injury is the compensation you may be able to recover. Workers’ compensation benefits only cover some of your losses:

  • Medical expenses for approved treatment and rehabilitation
  • Two-thirds of your lost wages (subject to a statutory maximum)
  • Permanent partial or total disability benefits, if your injury permanently prevents you from working
  • Sick travel reimbursement (payment for expenses related to travel for medical care)

Workers’ comp does not provide benefits for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering related to your injury. Injured workers also cannot recover compensation for future economic losses, such as anticipated medical expenses and loss of earning capacity.

In a personal injury claim, on the other hand, you can seek recovery of ALL damages arising from your work-related injury. This includes present and future medical expenses, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, and other economic losses, as well as pain and suffering and other non-economic damages.


When an employer is notified of an injury in the workplace, the employer has a duty to report the accident to its workers’ compensation insurance carrier. The North Carolina Industrial Commission may need to be notified as well.

The insurer will review the claim and make a decision on what benefits (if any) the worker is entitled to receive. If the claim is denied, workers have the right to appeal the decision. Prior to the hearing, you may be required to participate in mediation (an informal meeting where both sides attempt to reach an agreement). An experienced lawyer can assist you with the appeals process, mediation, and other aspects of your workers’ comp claim.

The first step of a personal injury case generally involves filing a claim with the liable party’s insurer. Insurance companies may agree to a fair settlement offer, in which case you will not have to file a lawsuit. Alternatively, if liability is disputed, an attorney may need to file suit on your behalf and potentially take your case to trial.

Statute of Limitations

Both workers’ compensation and personal injury claims are subject to deadlines. In most circumstances, you will lose your right to compensation if you fail to take legal action within the allotted time.

Workers’ compensation claims must be filed within two years of being injured on the job. However, a more pressing deadline also looms: Workers are required to notify employers of an accident resulting in injury within 30 days. Failure to provide notice to your employer can result in denial of your workers’ comp claim.

The statute of limitations for personal injury claims, meanwhile, is three years. Although you have more time to file a lawsuit against the negligent party or parties responsible for your injuries, it is important to start working with an experienced attorney as soon as possible.

Do I Have to Choose Which Claim(s) to File?

Filing for workers’ compensation does not preclude you from pursuing a personal injury claim (or vice versa). However, although most people who are injured at work have a claim for workers’ comp benefits, not everyone will be able to sue.

Prompt investigation is key for determining your rights and legal options after a workplace accident. If negligence was a factor, a knowledgeable lawyer can help you file for workers’ compensation as well as build a claim against one or more liable third parties.

A successful outcome in a personal injury claim may affect the benefits you receive through workers’ comp. If you get workers’ compensation benefits, the amount you can claim in a separate personal injury lawsuit may be affected. A workplace injury lawyer will work to maximize the recovery of damages in your case to cover all of your losses.

Contact a Work Injury Lawyer Today

Workplace accidents often result in serious injuries that can lead to permanent disability. If you have been hurt at work, you should not be forced to settle for less.

The Whitley Law Firm has extensive experience representing workers in accident claims across a wide variety of industries. Our goal is to recover the full benefits and other compensation you deserve for your injuries. If your workers’ comp claim is denied or liability is disputed, we will not hesitate to appeal the adverse decision and/or take your case to trial.

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Please call the Whitley Law Firm at (919) 785-5000 today for a free consultation. Our work injury lawyers serve clients in Raleigh, Kinston, New Bern, and throughout North Carolina.