Nearly three million workers suffer job-related injuries or illnesses per year, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The most recent statistics also show that fatal workplace injuries are at record highs, with more than 5,300 lives lost in a single year alone. Fortunately for injured employees and their families, states have laws in place that allow them to seek compensation for the financial losses that stem from on-the-job accidents. The primary ways of accomplishing this task are through workers’ compensation claims, third-party claims, or lawsuits against the employer.
WORKERS' COMP CLAIM
Most states, including South Carolina and North Carolina, require certain employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Qualifying employees who are hurt or diagnosed with an occupational illness can file a claim for workers’ compensation through their employer. If approved, employees can receive coverage for medical expenses, a portion of their lost wages, and disability benefits while they are out of work.
The advantage of workers’ compensation benefits is that they are awarded regardless of fault. Employees do not have to prove that anyone was to blame for their injuries or illness. All they have to prove is that the injury is work-related.
But workers’ compensation also has limitations. In exchange for providing no-fault benefits, employees give up their right to sue their employers for negligence. In addition, workers are not compensated fully for their losses because they only receive a portion of their lost wages and cannot collect damages for pain and suffering.
Sometimes, a worker is injured on the job due to no fault of the employer. That changes the employee’s legal options. If someone else’s negligence — such as an independent contractor, non-employee, or the manufacturer of a defective product — causes an employee’s injury, the worker could be able to file a personal injury claim against the at-fault party.
The upside of a third-party claim is that workers can pursue compensation for the full amount of their losses, including medical expenses, all of their lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.
LAWSUIT AGAINST EMPLOYER
It’s very difficult to file a personal injury lawsuit against an employer. Again, that’s because employers get immunity from lawsuits by providing no-fault workers’ compensation benefits to their employees.
In rare circumstances, an employee may be able to file a lawsuit against his or her employer. If the employer acted intentionally or exhibited reckless disregard for employees' safety which created substantial risk of injury, it could be possible for the injured worker to file a personal injury claim against them (so-called Woodson claim).