Small Business Brief

Safety & Loss Prevention

Legal Talk: When Can an Employee Sue You for a Workplace Injury?

As an employer, your first priority is to provide a safe working environment. Still, there may come a time where you’ll have to deal with a workplace injury.

Now, these situations often need minimal input on your part. Most injured workers are likely to file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. In some cases, though, they may have the basis for a civil lawsuit.

Not sure whether you have anything to worry about? Let’s go over what you need to know about injuries in the workplace.

Workers’ Compensation

First, let’s take a look at the key part of the puzzle — the workers’ compensation system.

The main purpose of workers’ compensation is to provide benefits to injured workers. This is true regardless of who was at fault for the accident. These benefits usually include medical expenses and wage replacements.

Why is workers’ compensation insurance so important? Simple: this is the best way to protect yourself from personal injury claims. By collecting their benefits, your workers give up their right to sue you in court.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. If the employee is able to establish and prove negligence, they’ll have the upper hand. This often leads to employees securing large personal injury settlement amounts.

Reckless Conduct

In some states, employees can sue their employer for gross negligence if it leads to their injury. States that recognize these types of claims often equate them to intentional misconduct.

What qualifies as gross negligence? Two common examples include poor safety controls and the lack of protective equipment. In fact, anything that places the employee at unnecessary risk can fit the bill.

Intentional Tort

Other than negligence, the employee may suffer harm through tortious acts. This includes the employer assaulting, battering, or imprisoning the employee on false charges.

Tort claims are often based on physical harm. That said, tort law also protects people from other types of harm, such as emotional distress. Most states qualify this as an intentional injury of an employee.

In some cases, the employer won’t be the one committing intentional harm. For example, the employer may instruct an employee or supervisor on what to do. If this leads to a worker injury, they’ll gain the right to file a claim.

Third Party Claims

The employee may also be able to sue a third party that contributed to their work injuries. In this scenario, they may choose not to file a claim against the employer. Instead, they’ll direct the claim at the responsible defendants.

Other times, the worker may opt to sue the employer. This often happens with independent contractors, who aren’t entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.

More on Handling a Workplace Injury

One final thing to keep in mind is your own responsibility for your workers. Did one of your employees suffer a workplace injury? If so, you must provide them with a workers’ compensation claim form within 24 hours.

Of course, as they say, prevention is still the best medicine. To that end, take a look at our list of 10 tips for preventing employee accidents.