Can I Sue My Employer if I’m Injured at Work?

Aug 20, 2010 22 Comments by

The short answer is no, you normally cannot sue your employer. However, there is another, more efficient, method to seek compensation from your employer due to an injury – workers’ compensation. As an employee, you cannot sue your employer for a work related injury. If the injury has occurred within the scope of your employment, you must claim your injury through the workers’ compensation system.

To better understand the workers compensation system, let’s give you a brief history lesson. Before 1929, if you are injured on the job the only recourse you had was to sue your employer. The problem was if you were injured, you need immediate medical care and payment for your lost wages from the injury. However, a lawsuit between you and your employer may take several years to settle or go to a jury. During this time you could not work, had no income, and also had to pay your own medical bills. As you can see this could cause lots of problems for you as an employee.

In 1929 the North Carolina legislature enacted Worker’s Compensation laws. The workers compensation laws had two main purposes. The first was swift compensation, wages, and medical care for the injured employee. The second was limited liability protection for the employer. Therefore under the workers compensation laws, you are not able to sue your employer unless it was for a very negligent act by your employer.  This is what is known as a “Woodson claim”. Currently Woodson claims are very hard to prove.

The workers’ compensation system was set up as a form of insurance for both you and your employer. The system is looked at as a “no fault system” which means that injuries are viewed as an unavoidable aspect of work relationships and there is no need to prove that your employer or a certain person caused your injury.

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The workers’ compensation laws are beneficial to employers because they do not run the risk of being sued by their employees.  Your employer pays a certain amount into workers’ compensation insurance throughout the year. If an employee is hurt on the job, the workers’ compensation system then pays a certain amount depending upon what type of injury is suffered.  The benefit of paying workers’ compensation insurance is the employer does not have to worry about being sued by their employees due to an on the job injury. Instead, if you want to make a claim against your employer for your work related injury you must go through the workers’ compensation process and cannot sue them in court.

The workers’ compensation system has obvious benefits to the employer. However, there are also a number of benefits to the employee who was injured. If you were to sue your employer you may have to wait years to receive any form of compensation. The workers’ compensation system gives employees compensation faster in order to pay medical bills and keep up with everyday expenses.  This is important because if you are injured, you may be out of work for an extended period of time.  Instead of waiting several years on a trial, which you run the risk of losing and receiving nothing, the workers compensation laws allow you to receive compensation more quickly to pay rent, medical bills and any other daily expenses you may have.  This system also prevents an employer from preventing you from obtaining compensation because they do not have the funds to pay for the medical bills that you may have incurred.  The companies workers’ compensation insurance carrier will pay for the necessary medical care and lost wages for an injured employee. As a give and take for these benefits, you are required to make injury claims against your employer through a workers’ compensation claim instead of a typical lawsuit.

As with any legal dispute, it is important to consult a workers’ compensation attorney that can ensure that you receive the full level of benefits that you deserve.

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At Duncan Law, LLP our goal is pretty simple. We try to make people's lives better. And in doing so we try to treat people the way we would want to be treated. It's just that simple.

We practice primarily in the areas of bankruptcy and workers' compensation. We have offices in Charlotte, Greensboro and Winston-Salem, NC.

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22 Responses to “Can I Sue My Employer if I’m Injured at Work?”

  1. Tweets that mention Can I Sue My Employer if I’m Injured at Work? -- Topsy.com says:

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  2. Toni Cromwell says:

    So if someone loses a limb or their life due to the negligence of the job they cannot be sued?
    In what state/s can you sue the employer

  3. Damon Duncan says:

    Toni,

    Generally speaking, that is correct. It depends on the details of your situation but usually someone would have to go through the workers’ compensation act to be compensated for that injury. However, other areas may come into play as well if certain safety codes were violated, etc. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney will be able to help you navigate the process so I would contact someone and discuss your situation in more detail. Best of luck!

    The Duncan Law Tam

  4. Jeff Shipley says:

    I was injured on the job from the lack of training at the job I was asked to perform. I am currently receiving worker’s comp. However, can I gain monetarily for my long term injury? Thank you

  5. Damon Duncan says:

    Jeff,

    In short, yes, most likely. Many times an insurance company will prefer to have a clincher agreement if they believe you will be long term liability to the company. In other words, you will receive compensation depending on the severity of your injury. I would suggest you contact an experienced attorney in your area. Most will offer a free consultation and you can get a better understanding of what your case may allow in the future. Best of luck!

    The Duncan Law Team

  6. Rich Say says:

    I was struck in the nose by a door pushed by another associate on the job. I now have a fractured nose. There are no warning signs or windows on the doors where this happened. My supervisor had asked me numerous times when I would come back to work and that I should come back to work in a position within the means of my condition. The company does have workers comp and I wanted to know if I should a file claim or a lawsuit because of my situation.

  7. Damon Duncan says:

    Rich,

    Typically workers’ compensation claims aren’t going to look a lot at whether the employer “did something wrong” (although that could play a role later down the road). Generally, you will have a workers’ compensation claim if you have an injury or occupational disease that occurred at work.

    Therefore, you possibly have a workers’ compensation claim. They may be responsible for any medical bills, lost wages, etc. However, there are no punitive damages in a workers’ compensation case.

    Your employer is correct though, if there is work that you can complete within the limitations of your injury then you should perform those duties. I would encourage you to have a more in depth discussion with your employer and their insurance carrier. Best of luck!

    The Duncan Law Team

  8. megan says:

    I do home health. I was driving a client to the post office in the clients vehicle and was struck from behind and have back and neck pain still. My employer told me after I was released from the doctors care and was able to work again that they had no work for me. Can I sue them? They didn’t want me to work anymore after that and the accident was not my fault.

  9. Adrianna says:

    I have gotten a 2nd degree burn while working. It looks really bad and I havnt been able to work for about a week now going on 2 weeks. No one has called me back about my lost wages from worker comp. I will have a big scare on my hand can I sue the company

  10. Damon Duncan says:

    Adrianna,

    If you’ve been burnt at work then you likely have a valid workers’ compensation case. You should be compensated for the time a doctor is holding you out of work. You would be paid your compensation rate (66% of your regular weekly gross wages). You will also be entitled to more if you have scar, etc. It would probably be worthwhile to contact a workers’ compensation attorney in your area to learn more about your options. Most offer a free consultation, I know we do. Best of luck!

  11. Daisy says:

    I slip n fall at work. If I file worker comp my company would find some reason to fire me. I don’t like to work there any more . It s not heathy management. If I quit my job I still file worker comp? I heard back ground check can show u your worker comp?
    Thanks !

  12. Damon Duncan says:

    Daisy,

    You can quit your job and still file a workers’ compensation claim. However, they would only be responsible for your medical treatment, not your lost wages, etc. If you have a legitimate workers’ compensation case then I would suggest contacting an attorney and filing a Form 18. Best of luck!

  13. Rita says:

    I was hurt about 1 1/2 year ago, I had to have surgery, it was so bad I have not been able to go back to work I am now on disability which I hate! They took my life from me. the pain is non-stop. Depression is so bad, but I had to pay them back after I got my disability REALLY!! Can I sue then this much later, I am so upset about it! I am now having to go to a pain mgnt dr. Help

  14. Damon Duncan says:

    Rita,

    I’m assuming you were injured while at work. In North Carolina, you have two years from the date of your accident to file a Form 18. It is critically important that you do that in a timely manner. You should also notify your employer of your accident, in writing. You cannot typically sue your employer for an injury at work. Instead, you would need to file a claim with the North Carolina Industrial Commission. Filing a Form 18 is what actually starts your case.

    Since your case seems to be quite far along in the process I would suggest contacting an experienced workers’ compensation attorney in your area – they should be able to give you more guidance to your specific situation. Best of luck going forward!

  15. Barbra Athill says:

    My fiancee lost his whole arm at work……they put him on a broken machine, with no training, and he was alone when the job calls for 2 people to run the machine. Is he able to sue the company for negligence?

  16. Damon Duncan says:

    Ms. Athill,

    I’m sorry to hear about your fiancee’s injury. It certainly sounds like there could be the possibility that this would fall under the Woodson Doctrine. Additionally, there could be OSHA violations which could allow for more recovery as well. Your fiancee should contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney as soon as possible to discuss his different options. Good luck to you guys!

    Damon Duncan

  17. michael says:

    I broke my foot on the job an my company doesn’t carry workman’s comp can I sue

  18. Damon Duncan says:

    Michael,

    It depends. Don’t you hate that answer? If your employer has three or more employees then they are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. If they haven’t then you still have the ability to collect workers’ compensation but you would need to contact the appropriate state run commission to assist you in that process. Or you could hire an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to help you with it as well. Most states have programs set up to assist injured workers of underinsured or non-insured businesses. It sounds to me like it would probably be a good idea for you to get an attorney though because it sounds like you may have a winding path to navigate.

    Damon Duncan

  19. brian says:

    I have no idea if my job pays workers comp or anything as I’ve only been there for about 3 months. I work at a restaurant that makes sandwiches. While working about a week ago, the owner of the place helping on the grill absent mindedly closed the grill on my hand causing a second degree burn going up my hand onto my wrist that will absolutely leave a definitive scar. He knew what happened but didn’t say anything about it until a coworker brought it to his attention when he noticed my hand turn purple. Am I entitled to anything? I didn’t see a doctor, but have had to wrap it up for over a week now making work much harder. Thanks for your time.

  20. Damon Duncan says:

    Brian,

    A number of different factors go into deciding whether you can recover in this situation. Generally, it sounds like you possibly have a compensable case. What I would suggest doing is notifying your employer of the injury and filing a Form 18 with the North Carolina Industrial Commission. At that point, if you need to see any medical professionals your employer’s insurance company can send you to someone. The question will ultimately be whether or not you will have any long term problems / scars from the burn. If not, then you could get your medical treatment paid for but likely wouldn’t have any additional compensation. However, if you do have long term disability from the burn then you may have the ability to receive further compensation. Good luck!

  21. Eleni says:

    I went to work last Wednesday to open store.at the time walking to shut off store alarm I got hit on the back of my head from one of those heavy huge ceiling lights and metal casing to it which it seemed to appear they had taped on the ceiling instead of being screwed or bolted on the ceiling!i blacked out for a few minutes but struggled to open store until the other girl came for the morning shift that she was working with me.Since it was only @6am and my bosses don’t want to be called this early I contacted one of my bosses/owner by a text telling I need to go home and or dr do to the hit of my head.My boss told me to put ice on my head and not go anywhere.I continued working until I became very dizzy,started vomiting and I had a severe headache!! Finally after I begged and begged they told me I can go home.I told them I was getting worse so if I turned worded after I went home I would seek medical attention,they told me no Need to see a dr but just take some Tylenol,some sleep,ice on the head and a day to rest?!!i went home I got sicker after I did lay Down which by then I was vomiting way more and the swelling had got worse..actually is still pretty swollen but better from a week and a half ago.I called my boss again part owner,I told him that after I had asked hospital what to do because of my symptoms they told me to go to the er.I went to er.I had a catscan which it shows I have a concussion and a head contusion.i have swelling inside my head but no bleeding so that’s one good thing.I v being for days in pain and suffering from these headaches plus now I have blurred double vision and my eyes have being crossing do to this head trauma.My bosses have this whole accident/injury recorded on video and they know I didn’t cause it by any means!! It was do to their negligence and ghetto cheap ways of me getting hurt like this.dr has me off from work until my head swelling goes down and eye drs wante to follow up with em within 3-4 weeks but they believe my vision changes r do to the head trauma.my bosses brushed me off and avoid talking to me about paying for this bills,meds and medical expenses.until after several times off asking them about workers comp their insurance guy called me and yest.their adjuster from workers comp.i don’t think is fair tho that I ve being for over a week off from work hurting and suffering while loosing money cause I can’t work and workers comp won’t start paying for my time off until after my 7th off from work?! What I was told since I am in Omaha Ne.it was their careless act and them having tape over a light fixture that’s a violation but I’m paying for it right now while they get the easy way out?! Plus they r constantly calling me to tell me I need to go back to work when this just happened and dr has me off work.btw someone is helping me write this.Do you have any advice please? Thank you

  22. Damon Duncan says:

    Eleni,

    I would strongly encourage you to contact a workers’ compensation attorney in your city. If you fully heal from your injury then there may not be a case worth pursuing. However, if you have long term effects from your injuries then it certainly would be a viable workers’ compensation case. There could also be possible OSHA violations which could increase your ability to recover.

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