Our Virginia and Carolina personal injury law firm is often contacted by potential clients who have questions about workplace injuries, workers' compensation claims and recovering damages against negligent employers or manufacturers of defective or unsafe equipment and products. Below are examples of these questions:
- I was hurt on the job, can I bring a personal injury lawsuit, or can I just get workers' compensation?
- I drive a car or truck for my employer at my job, and I was in a car accident. Can I bring a lawsuit against the careless driver who hit me, even though I may get workers' compensation benefits through my own employer?
- I got hurt at work while using a defective product and am going to get workers' compensation benefits. Can I also sue the company that made or sold the equipment or product that caused my injury?
- I work at a factory and there was a toxic spill. The chemicals spread through the building, and I had to be taken to the hospital after breathing in fumes and getting the chemical on my skin. Do I have a lawsuit for the chemical spill even if I receive workers' compensation?
- A contractor was doing work at my job site and did something careless that ended up causing my on-the-job injury. Can I bring a claim against that contractor?
- I am getting workers' compensation but also looking into whether a suit can be brought against the company that really caused my accident, which is not my employer. Can I bring that separate negligence lawsuit?
- I had my finger partially amputated by a piece of faulty equipment at work and am receiving workers' compensation. But I heard I can file a suit against the company that made the equipment. Is that possible?
We offer answers to these questions in this article.
EXPLANATION OF WORKERS' COMPENSATION LAWS
In every state, the basic principle behind workers' compensation is that employers are shielded from being sued by their employees in exchange for ensuring that their employees who get injured while on the job receive payments according to a schedule set by statute. Paying into, and out of, the workers' compensation system generally ensures that employers do not have to be concerned about negligence lawsuits with unlimited jury verdicts. Because federal and state health and safety laws administered by agencies such as OSHA and the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry require employers to follow basic safety requirements, the system works and functions fairly well.
In exchange for not having the right to sue employers, workers also don't have to show any fault in order to recover workers' compensation benefits. That is, if a person is hurt while lifting something at work, it doesn't matter whether the employer did anything wrong to cause or allow the injury to occur. If the injury happened in the course of employment, it is treated a compensable injury under workers' compensation laws.
Most state workers' compensation laws provide that the employee will receive a percentage of average weekly wages lost. Then there are provisions for payments to workers who suffer permanent or disabling injuries, including the loss of fingers and the partial loss of use of arms and legs. Also, all workers' compensation payment schedules provide for payment of the medical bills related to the work injury.
However, the workers' compensation laws may or may not shield a company that is careless from being sued if that company is not your own employer or company working closely with your employer. This situation often exists when the primary employer is a construction company and the person who gets injured works for a contractor.
You probably need to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer if you are hurt while working on a construction project with multiple contractors. The legal distinction and determination that needs to be made include whether the company that is liable for your injury is, or isn't, in a joint venture with your employer. If a close alignment exists between your employer and the other company, you may be able to file a workers' compensation claims exist but you may not be able to file a separate personal injury claim.