Workers’ Compensation Lawyer 101: Can You Sue Your Employer for Negligence as an Injured Worker?
Ryan Zavodnick | December 30, 2022 | Workers' Compensation
The short answer to the question of whether you can sue your employer for a work-related injury is no. Employers with workers’ compensation enjoy a general immunity from lawsuits, and all claims must be resolved through administrative channels. However, Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law provides several loopholes, one of which might apply to you depending on the circumstances of your case.
Loopholes in the Workers’ Compensation System
See below for a description of the most important loopholes in the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation system. All scenarios allow you to file an ordinary personal injury lawsuit, free from the restrictions of the workers’ compensation system.
Your Employer Does Not Carry the Required Workers’ Compensation Insurance
If your employer does not carry workers’ compensation insurance, they may be breaking the law. However, employers of the following employees do not have to purchase workers’ compensation insurance:
- Railroad workers, longshoremen, and federal employees (because other compensation systems apply to them);
- Domestic workers such as housekeepers (coverage is optional);
- Certain part-time or freelance agricultural workers;
- Employees who have requested and received an exemption based on their religious beliefs; and
- Executives of certain corporations.
Employers of other employees are subject to the workers’ compensation system. If a covered employee suffers an injury, but the employer does not carry workers’ compensation, the employee can sue the employer in court for full personal injury damages. You can also use the threat of a lawsuit as leverage in settlement negotiations with your employer.
Your Employer Injured You Intentionally
An intentional injury is not the same as a negligent injury. Suppose your employer intentionally injured you by punching you in the nose or by deliberately exposing you to unreasonably dangerous working conditions.
In that case, your employer’s workers’ compensation immunity to lawsuits does not apply, and you can file a personal injury lawsuit.
Your Claim Arose Outside the Workplace
You can file a personal injury claim for injuries that occur at company-sponsored events such as a company picnic.
A Defective Product Caused Your Injury
A product liability lawsuit is not the same as a negligence lawsuit because you do not have to prove fault to win. Nevertheless, the unspoken assumption is that someone must have been negligent in creating a defective product.
Suppose you suffered an injury due to defective workplace equipment. You can sue the manufacturer, the retailer, or anyone in the product’s chain of distribution if you can prove that:
- You were injured by a product;
- You were injured because the product was defective and unreasonably dangerous; and
- The defect already existed when the product left the defendant’s hands.
Note that the defendant in a product liability lawsuit will probably not be your employer.
Third-Party Premises Liability
You can file a lawsuit when a third-party worksite owner causes a workplace injury. For example, you might file a premises liability negligence claim against the owner of a construction site where you suffered an injury.
The Pros and Cons of Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit vs. Filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim
The main disadvantage of filing a personal injury lawsuit is that, in a personal injury lawsuit, you must usually prove the defendant was at fault (although this is not the case with product liability claims).
The main advantage of filing a lawsuit is that you can claim noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering and possibly punitive damages. Non-economic damages often make up for more than 50% of the total value of a personal injury claim. This means you could more than double your compensation by filing a personal injury lawsuit rather than a workers’ compensation claim.
Hire a Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyer
If you plan to file a lawsuit or seek a settlement over a work-related injury, handling your own claim is like going to a gunfight with an empty holster. For any sizable claim, the assistance of an experienced personal injury lawyer is a practical necessity.
Contact a Philadelphia Personal Injury Attorney If You Have Questions or Need Assistance
You need a lawyer you can trust to be your advocate in and out of court. Contact a Philadelphia personal injury lawyer for help with your personal injury claim or if you have questions regarding the timeline of your case.
To learn more and get the help you deserve, call Zavodnick & Lasky Personal Injury Lawyers at (215) 875-7030 or contact us online.
You can also visit our law firm at 123 S Broad St #1220, Philadelphia, PA 19109.