Is Workers' Compensation My Only Avenue if I Am Injured on the Job?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration considers an illness or injury to be job-related if “an event or exposure in the work environment either caused or contributed to the resulting condition or significantly aggravated a pre-existing injury or illness.” Although most employees who are hurt on the job know they are eligible to file a claim for workers’ compensation, most are unaware that specific situations may entitle them to file a third-party claim for damages that aren’t covered under workers’ comp. Workplace injury cases are challenging, and the laws that govern employer liability can be confusing. If you were injured on the job and have questions regarding your right to compensation, reach out to the experienced Hampton personal injury attorneys at Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp as soon as possible.  

Personal Injury Claims vs. Workers’ Compensation

Although our law firm does not handle workers’ compensation cases, it is critical for anyone planning to file a workers’ comp claim to know the difference between doing that and filing a personal injury claim for an on-the-job accident. 

Employer Requirements

In Virginia, employers with two or more employees must carry workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ compensation covers workers who are injured in workplace accidents or develop occupational illnesses due to their jobs. Workers’ comp insurance also shields employers from being sued. There are, however, a few exceptions that make it possible for injured workers to pursue further compensation via a personal injury claim.

What Role Does Negligence Play?

The main distinction between a personal injury claim and a workers’ compensation claim is the consideration of fault. When you are injured while performing tasks related to your job, you are not required to prove that your employer, colleagues, or anyone else was negligent in order to receive workers’ comp benefits. No matter who was to blame for your workplace injury, even if you were the negligent party, you are still eligible to file a claim through workers’ compensation. In personal injury claims, however, the other party’s negligence must be proven. 

Generally speaking, in a personal injury claim arising from an on-the-job accident, the plaintiff has to show that third-party negligence was the cause of their injuries. While you won’t be able to sue an employer or colleague directly, you are able to bring a suit against a third party, like a contractor.  

Simply put, workers’ comp protects employers from being sued in cases of workplace injuries. Exceptions include:

  • Your employer willfully caused injury or death to an employee
  • Your employer was not required to or failed to carry workers’ comp insurance

When filing a personal injury lawsuit, you may claim damages for medical bills, lost wages, and pain, and suffering if your employer committed any of the following acts of negligence: 

Willful and Egregious Conduct

If you were deliberately harmed by your employer, you can sue for damages in a personal injury lawsuit. While filing a workers’ comp claim generally waives your right to pursue civil action, when an employer shows a willful disregard for an employee’s safety, the employee is entitled to bring a civil claim against them. In a case involving egregious or malicious acts, you will have to prove that your injuries were the result of their purposeful misconduct.

Exposure to a Toxic Substance

Employers are legally obligated to provide a safe working environment that protects their employees from injury. When an employer’s disregard for safety regulations exposes workers to toxic chemicals, they have breached the duty of care they owe their employees.  

Toxic chemicals commonly found on job sites include:

  • Asbestos
  • Benzene
  • Radium
  • Chromium
  • Silica

If you were exposed to harmful chemicals and were injured or become ill as a result, you may circumvent workers’ comp and sue your employer directly. Again, you will have to prove that your injuries were the result of negligence and that your employer deliberately and knowingly exposed you to dangerous chemicals. In these cases, employees might also be eligible to collect punitive damages.  

Defective Products

In almost any industry, employees have specific tools and products they need in order to do their jobs properly. If a worker is given defective equipment that causes an injury, they are entitled to pursue a claim outside the purview of workers’ comp. The injured worker will have to establish that their employer was aware that the product was faulty and failed to replace it, or failed to relinquish a faulty product and left it available for workers to use. In some instances, workers can also file a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of the defective product. 

Third Parties

Finally, if your injuries were caused by a negligent third party or colleague, you could be entitled to file a personal injury lawsuit. In a third-party lawsuit for a workplace injury, the following must be proven:

  • Your employer knew the third party was violent
  • Your employer failed to fire the worker who caused your injuries
  • Your employer failed to take action to protect their employees from the third party’s misconduct

Have You Filed a Workers’ Compensation Claim?

When it comes to dual claims, a lien is placed on third-party recovery. Although this can be negotiated down, it is vital to work with an experienced Hampton personal injury lawyer from Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp to ensure you receive maximum compensation. Our decades of combined experience in handling workplace personal injury claims secured a $750,000 settlement on behalf of an injured truck driver who sustained severe wrist and ankle injuries when he was hit by a negligent forklift driver.  

If you were injured in a workplace accident and would like to find out if you can pursue a civil claim against your employer, you need to talk to a knowledgeable attorney with experience in handling these types of claims. You can schedule a free consultation by calling (833) 997-1774 or filling out the contact form on our website. Our offices are located in Hampton, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, and Norfolk.