If you suffer a work-related injury, generally speaking, you are prohibited from filing a lawsuit against your employer. This is primarily because of California's workers' compensation system, which exists to benefit both employers and employees. Because injured employees are covered under their employer's workers' compensation insurance, they are barred from suing their employer for a work-related injury.
It is essentially a trade-off where the injured employee gives up his or her right to sue employers in court in exchange for the right to receive workers' compensation benefits, regardless of who was at fault for the accident. This is known as a no-fault system. But, there are a few critical exceptions to this rule.
When Can Employees Sue Employers?
If you were injured on the job and if you believe your employer intentionally caused you this injury or harm, you can bring a lawsuit against your employer for an intentional tort in civil court. In other words, when employers do something that is not part of the working relationship and the employee is injured as a result, the employee has the right to sue his or her employer in civil court.
It is important to remember that moving the case to civil court may provide substantially more compensation for the worker, but the employee may lose the no-fault presumption. This means that they will have to show evidence that the defendant, in this case their employer, was negligent or engaged in wrongdoing. While the potential payout is higher, the burden of proof, which rests on the plaintiff in such cases, is also higher.
Here are the scenarios in which employees may be able to file a civil lawsuit against their employers:
Assault: Injuries suffered by workers on the job are by and large accidental unless it results from a deliberate act on the part of the employer to inflict injury on an employer. In such cases, workers will have to show intent – that the employer intended to injure them.
In some cases, an assault in the workplace may come from a co-worker. You can sue your employer if your employer has approved of or ratified the conduct of that employee. However, if the employer did not authorize such an action, they are not responsible for the acts of an employee. However, the employee in such a situation can file a workers' compensation claim and file a third-party lawsuit against the employee who assaulted him or her.
Fraudulent concealment: This is when employees' injuries are aggravated by employers' fraudulent concealment of the injury's existence and its connection with the worker's employment. In such cases, the employer will be liable for damages caused by the aggravation.
So, what exactly is fraudulent concealment? Often, these are dangerous or unhealthy conditions at work that employees may be exposed to, but don't know about because the employers concealed it from them deliberately. For example, an employer who knows that an employee working with cancer-causing chemicals and contracted the disease, should tell the employee about the connection. An employer who doesn't do so is essentially committing fraud, which means they are not disclosing facts, which they have a duty and obligation to disclose to their employees.
Dual capacity: This occurs when the employee's injury or death is caused by a faulty product manufactured by the employer. In such cases the employer is an employer, but also the manufacturer of a defective product that injured or killed the employee. For example, if you are using a faulty product manufactured by your employer that is also for sale to the general public for similar use, you are treated as a consumer as opposed to an employee. This change in relationship essentially gives you the right to sue your employer.
Lack of workers' compensation insurance: Under California law, all employers are required to have workers' compensation insurance. If an employer fails to secure workers' compensation insurance as required by law, employees have the right to sue their employer to receive compensatory damages for the injuries they have suffered on the job.
When workers sue employers in this situation, employees don't have to prove that the employers were at fault. The burden of proof in these cases is on the employer to prove that they were not at fault. Employers also cannot say that the employee was partially at fault or another employee was at fault. This is the penalty employers face for not having workers' compensation insurance. When an injured worker files a workers' compensation claim form and the company lacks insurance, a state agency may step in and pay benefits awarded so the employee can receive workers' compensation benefits in a timely manner.
Wrongful Denial or Termination of Workers' Comp Benefits
Typically, workers' compensation claims are pursued through the administrative process and not the civil court system. Until the administrative process has been completely exhausted and all parties have taken every possible step to settle a claim, you won't be able to appeal your benefits award. Workers must appeal to a workers' compensation board or s specially nominated court.
Only after you have satisfied all processes and procedures can you seek relief in the civil court system. To make sure you are fully aware of your rights, it is important that you retain the services of a work injury attorney who is familiar with the workers' compensation system in California and knows how to seek other avenues of compensation to maximize recovery for injured workers.
How a Work Injury Lawyer Can Help
When you are injured on the job, it may not always be clear to you if you should pursue a workers' compensation claim, file a third-party lawsuit, sue your employer or take multiple approaches. If you require assistance in determining your next steps, our experienced Los Angeles work injury lawyers can help you. Our attorneys know that the aftermath of a work injury can be an extremely trying time for workers and their families. Not only are injured workers facing financial and physical challenges, but also tremendous emotional stress. We are here to help you. Call Greenberg & Ruby LLP at (323) 782-0535 to obtain more information about pursuing your legal rights.