Can I Ever Sue My Employer In Court Over A Work Related Injury

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The aim of state workers' compensation laws is to prevent the need for an injured employee to establish fault through the legal system. An employer who is not exempt from the requirement to maintain workers' compensation insurance provides those benefits as a compromise, to keep the claim process out of court. The employee is generally prohibited from bringing a case for negligence or remedy of damages to suit against a participating employer. This is because there is a no-fault system with workers' compensation and it does not matter why the injury happened. In exchange for speedy and certain benefits, the workers who have been injured give up the right to sue their employer. This has often been criticized for restricting or removing worker's common-law rights so that the governments' or insurance companies' financial liabilities are reduced. However, there are exceptions when an employee with a work-related injury may sue the employer.

Anytime an injury results from an employer's intentional, reckless, or illegal action, the employee has the right to refuse the workers' compensation process and sue the employer. For instance, if an employer intentionally mislabels a toxic substance that would normally be prohibited for the desired application, and the employee is injured or becomes ill by using the substance as the employer required, the employee would have the right to sue for a full range of damages. Employees seeking remedy for issues related to instances of harassment in the workplace also have successfully brought suits to the state courts for civil action against employers.

Under workers' compensation laws, most employers are required to provide workers' compensation insurance benefits to their employees. Established laws have requirements that may differ somewhat from state to state, but most employers who have very few employees, household employees, or agricultural workers are exempt from those laws. If an employee working for an exempt employer is injured on the job, the need may arise for the employee to go to court to prove that the injury is the fault, and consequently the responsibility, of the employer. In such instances, it is within the employee's right to pursue such action.

Additionally, even though an employer provides workers' compensation insurance benefits, if an injury or illness is a result of the actions of a third party, the employee has the right to take suit against the third party. Typically, the third party would be an outside contractor, supplier, or individual whose negligence was the direct cause of an accident or occupational exposure.

The system of workers' compensation insurance was established in Washington State in 1911, when labor organizers and employers entered into a compromise. Workers had been waiting too long for medical and financial assistance, and lawsuits were becoming unpractical, since the courts could not handle the growing caseload for work related injuries. For the employer, the cost was too unpredictable, and the State's economic losses were growing.

While worker's compensation laws are written to minimize the time and expense involved in processing claims for on-the-job injuries and illnesses, those laws also recognize the existence of exceptions and additions. As always, it is in the claimant's best interest to be fully aware of his or her rights and to pursue them as desired.


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