When you are injured on the job, normally the only source of compensation for your injuries is your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance. That rule is in place because that policy serves dual purposes–employee coverage and employer certainty.
Workers’ compensation ensures that an injured employee has a fast, effective avenue to receive coverage for all medical expenses and lost wages resulting from a workplace injury. On the employer side, the system promotes certainty by limiting the employer’s liability. Your employer relies on workers’ compensation insurance to avoid bankruptcy from a lawsuit based on a workplace accident.
However, workers’ compensation constrains an injured employee’s ability to obtain benefits. The system does not provide for punitive damages or pain and suffering. State laws limit benefits to a percentage of your wages.
A few exceptions to the general rule allow you to sue your employer or related parties in court. To determine whether you fit one of five exceptions, speak to an experienced workers’ compensation attorney in Sanford, NC.
Injury Due to a Defective Product (Products Liability)
Charlie, an employee for a cardboard company, is adjusting cardboard in a box-cutting machine used to create storage boxes. The mechanism that stops the machine gets stuck, and the machine injures Charlie’s hand. While Charlie can collect workers’ compensation, he also may have a product liability case against the manufacturer of the defective machine.
When a defective or inherently dangerous piece of equipment injures an employee, the manufacturer of the equipment may be liable. Moreover, a product liability lawsuit could result in compensation for the employee, including pain and suffering.
Suing a Co-Worker (Pleasant Claims)
In North Carolina, you can sue a co-employee if that person’s willful, wanton and reckless negligence injures you. In Pleasant v. Johnson, a worker was injured when a co-employee attempted to scare Mr. Pleasant by sneaking up close in a truck and blowing the horn. The employee misjudged the distance and hit Mr. Pleasant with the truck, seriously damaging his knee.
Intentional or Egregious Conduct by Your Employer (Woodson Claims)
In most jurisdictions, you can sue for an employer’s intentional or egregiously reckless conduct resulting in injury. For example, a timber company coerced workers to get material out of a ditch using a tractor in a manner that violated various OSHA rules. The tractor fell on one worker and permanently injured him. The employer’s recklessness in allowing an unsafe working environment allowed the employee to sue outside of workers’ compensation.
In NC, these cases are “Woodson” claims and are very difficult to prove. One must establish that the employer intentionally engaged in misconduct that he/she knew was substantially certain to cause serious injury or death. Then, one must show that the misconduct injured or killed the employee.
Your Employer Fails to Have Workers’ Compensation Insurance
It should be no surprise that if your employer neglects to obtain the required insurance, you may sue in court for any workplace injuries. The upside of being able to go to court, rather than use workers’ compensation, is that you can likely get more in damages from a suit.
However, the downside is that you need to prove your case in civil court before obtaining a monetary judgment. General liability rules (proving negligence) and defenses (contributory negligence) make this situation complicated. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help determine if you can sue your employer outside workers’ compensation insurance.
Injury from the Actions of a Third Party
On-the-job injuries may not come from your employer’s recklessness, a defective machine, or toxic substances in the workplace. In some cases, an unrelated third party could be the cause of an injury. A person who drives for a living, such as a UPS driver, is a classic example. Imagine the driver having an accident that is the other driver’s fault. Assuming the other driver was entirely at fault, you can sue that person for damages, including expenses and lost wages.
In sum, workers’ compensation insurance is generally the avenue for compensation when you get injured on the job. These are five circumstances where you might obtain greater monetary damages by suing outside of that system. Schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced workers’ compensation attorneys in Sanford, North Carolina, to learn more about your rights.