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Can I Sue My Employer After a Work Injury?

Generally, employees cannot sue their employers for work-related injuries that happened on-the-job, including injuries cased by slip and fall accidents. However, it is important to remember that there are exceptions. Workers' compensation laws in California require employers to pay for employee injuries regardless of who was at fault. In return, employers are immune from personal injury lawsuits from workers in a majority of situations. There are still exceptions to this rule and there are scenarios in which injured workers can hold their employers accountable for their damages and losses.

Key Points - Table of Contents

Understanding Employer Immunity and Exceptions to It

In most scenarios, workers' comp laws in California prevent employees from suing their employers for work-related injuries. Workers' compensation laws establish "employer immunity" because employers are required to pay workers' compensation benefits regardless of fault rather than requiring employees to prove that the employer was negligent.

That said there are exceptions to employer immunity. Here are some examples of situations in which you may be able to sue your employer:

  • You were injured as the result of your employer's willful assault or sanction of an assault by another employee.
  • Your injury became worse or was aggravated due to your employer's wrongful or fraudulent concealment of your injury and its link to your employment.
  • You were injured by a defective product made by your employer, and you had obtained the product from someone other than your employer.
  • Your employer did not have Workers' Compensation Insurance, as required by law.
  • You were injured by a power press with the machine guard removed. This applies where a worker's injury or death is caused by the employer's knowing removal or knowing failure to install a point of operation guard on a power press. In such cases, the removal or failure to install must have been specifically authorized by the employer under conditions of which the employer has knowledge, to create the probability of serious injury or death to workers.

What to Do If You Are Injured on the Job

If you were injured on the job, you may be able to file a lawsuit against your employer. Here are some important steps that you would be well advised to take in order to find out whether you are able to do so.

Workers' compensation eligibility: One of the first questions to ask if you've been injured on the job is whether or not you are eligible for workers' compensation benefits. If you are, it is highly likely that you may not be able to sue your employer. It is important that you file a claim for benefits in such cases.

Medical evaluation: You will need to show evidence of the cause and extent of injuries you suffered on the job. Therefore, it is important that you get a comprehensive medical evaluation as soon as possible. You may need to see a doctor approved by your employer in order to preserve your eligibility for workers' compensation.

Accident details: Write down as many details as possible about the accident because critical details can get fuzzy as time goes by. You have a better advantage when you have rich detail.

Work injury lawyer: It is also crucial that you contact an experienced lawyer who has a track record of representing injured workers.

Injured When You're Not on the Job?

Is it possible to sue your employer for medical expenses and other losses if you were not on the job when you suffered your injury? The answer in most cases is: No. But, there are still exceptions. For example, while commuting to and from work is generally not considered "on the job," you may be able to seek workers' compensation benefits if you were running a work-related errand on the way to or from work.

Similarly, you may be eligible for a work injury settlement even if you were not on your employer's premises at the time of the accident. For example, if you were on a company trip and suffered an accident during that time, you may be eligible for compensation.

What Are Some of the Common Mistakes That People Make When They File a Claim?

Here are some of the common mistakes injured employees make when they file a workers' compensation claim in California:

  • Failing to report a workplace injury to your employer. In California, you must report your injury to your employer within 30 days of the incident or as soon as you discover that you suffered an injury on the job. Not doing so could cause you to lose your right to file a workers' comp claim.
  • Filing your workers' compensation claim paperwork late. This must be done within 30 days of your injury as well.
  • Putting off seeing a doctor after your work injury. If you wait too long, you may lose your chance to secure workers' comp benefits.
  • Disregarding your doctor's treatment plan for your work-related injury. Be sure to follow your doctor's orders.
  • Discussing your workers' comp claim on social media. You should keep details of your workers' comp claim confidential. Any statements you make on social media or other public forums can be used against you.
  • Not seeking the counsel of an experienced California workers' compensation lawyer. Workers' compensation law can get extremely complicated. Having a knowledgeable lawyer on your side will help ensure that you avoid any pitfalls during the claim process that could jeopardize your chances of getting fair compensation.

Where Can I Find the Required DWC-1 Claim Form if My Employer Hasn't Provided Me With It?

If you have suffered an injury on the job, the first step you need to take is to tell your supervisor about it right away. If your injury or illness developed over time, report it as soon as you learn that it was caused by your job. Doing so helps prevent issues with delays in receiving benefits, especially medical care that you may need right away. If your employer does not learn about your injury within 30 days and this prevents them from full investigating your case, you could lose your right to receive workers' compensation benefits.

One of the most important steps to take after your job-related injury is to fill out a DWC-1 claim form and give it to your employer. Your employer must give you or mail you this claim form within one working day after learning about your injury or illness. If your employer does not give you the form, you can download it from the forms page of the Division of Workers' Compensation website.

It is important that you give the completed claim form to your employer because doing so opens your workers' compensation case. It starts the process for finding all benefits for which you may qualify under state law.

How Likely Is It That I Will Be Able to Sue My Employer?

In a majority of situations and scenarios involving job-related injuries in California, employees will not be able to sue employers. However, there are a few situations in which you may be able to sue your employer:

Injury from intentional acts: If your on-the-job injury was caused by a deliberate act on your employer's part to cause you injury, you may be able to sue them. However, as the plaintiff, you must also prove or show evidence that your employer intended to injure you.

Fraudulent concealment: When an employee's injury is aggravated by an employer's fraudulent concealment of the existence of the injury and its connection with their employment, an employer can be held liable. An example of fraudulent concealment is when an employer knows that an employee was exposed to hazardous chemicals, but doesn't inform them about the potential for harm.

Dual capacity: This is when the employee's injury or death is caused by a defective product manufactured by the employer. In such cases, the company fills the role of an employer as well as the manufacturer of the defective product that harmed the employee. In such cases, the victim will be treated as a consumer as opposed to an employee, which gives them the right to sue an employer.

Lack of workers' compensation insurance: If your employer does not have workers' compensation insurance as required under California law, you may have the right to sue your employer to receive damages for the injuries you have suffered on the job.

If I Do Not Discover an Injury Right Away or If It Develops Over Time, Will This Affect My Workers' Compensation Benefits?

If you do not discover your work injury right away or if it is an injury or illness that develops over time, your workers' compensation should not get affected. If you developed injuries gradually such as tendinitis or hearing loss as a result of your job, report it as soon as you learn about it or if you believe it was caused by your job.

Reporting promptly as soon as you learn about an injury helps avoid problems and delays in receiving benefits including prompt medical care, which is very important in such situations. However, if you delay reporting your injury or fail to report it within 30 days of finding about your injury or that your job caused it, you could lose your right to receive workers' compensation benefits.

An important part of the process is filling out a Workers' Compensation Claim Form or DWC-1 claim form. Your employer should provide you with this form within one working day after you report your injury or illness. Read all the information that comes with the form. Fill out and sign the employee portion of the form. Describe your injury completely. Do this right away and turn the form in to your employer as soon as possible to avoid problems or delays with your workers' comp claims process.

What Happens If My Place of Work Does Not Have Workers' Compensation Insurance?

California law requires employers to carry workers' compensation insurance. In California, employers can obtain workers' compensation insurance by purchasing a policy from an insurance company or a certificate from the Director of Industrial Relations that will enable the employer to self-insure. Employers that insure themselves are typically larger companies with thousands of workers. They may find it cheaper to handle the claims themselves than pay an insurance company.

Not having workers' compensation insurance can certainly put injured workers in a spot as well as employers who can face fines and even imprisonment under California law. However, if you are injured and your employer does not have workers' compensation insurance, you can still pursue workers' comp benefits directly from your employer.

A California employer who fails to obtain workers' compensation coverage could be looking at a misdemeanor criminal offense punishable by up to one year in county jail and a penalty up to double the amount of the premium, but not less than $10,000. If your employer does not have insurance and you suffered catastrophic injuries, your permanent disability will be increased by 10%. Also, if it is determined that an employer has failed to obtain California workers' compensation insurance, they will be barred from hiring or retaining any employees until they obtain workers' comp insurance.

You can take legal action if your employer does not have workers' compensation as is required in the state of California. You can sue your employer in civil court. If your employer lacks the funds to pay your benefits, then a state agency called the Uninsured Employers Benefit Trust Fund (UEBTF), will pay the workers' compensation benefits.

An injured worker must make a request to the UEBTF to pay benefits if the employer cannot. Some of the documents that must be sent to the agency include:

  • Your medical reports documenting you work injury
  • Any medical bills relating to your work injury
  • Proof of employment such as a W-2 or paystubs
  • Special Notice of Lawsuit to notify the employer
  • Petition to Join Party Defendant UEBTF

In order to file a civil lawsuit against your employer, you must prove that your employer lacked workers' comp insurance at the time of the injury. You have three years from the date of the injury to file a claim in civil court. If you win a civil judgment against your employer, you must pay back the UEBTF for any benefits it paid you in the workers' comp case.

Difference Between Workers' Compensation and a Civil Lawsuit

When workers suffer injuries on the job, they are usually compensated under California's workers' compensation system, which is separate from civil courts. By filing a workers' compensation claim, an injured worker can receive compensation for medical expenses and a portion of their lost wages.

However, workers' comp is a "no-fault system," which means workers are compensated regardless of whose fault the accident was. In exchange for these benefits, employees give up the right to sue their employers. California law requires employers to have workers' compensation insurance to help ensure that injured workers can receive timely benefits.

Workers' comp also limits employees with regard to what compensation they can seek. For example, if you have suffered injuries so severe that it diminishes your earning capacity, the benefits you receive from workers' compensation will be far less than what you could get by filing a personal injury civil lawsuit against a third party whose negligence might have caused your accident and injuries.

In a civil lawsuit, as a plaintiff, you will be required to prove that the defendant's negligence caused your accident, injuries and losses. However, you may be able to receive additional compensation for damages including long-term medical care and ongoing treatment, loss of earning capacity, punitive damages, loss of consortium, and pain and suffering.

Civil lawsuits are worth much more than workers' compensation claims. If you have been injured on the job, it is important that you consult with an experienced Los Angeles work injury lawyer to discuss the potential for a civil lawsuit in addition to seeking workers' compensation benefits.

How to Seek Full Compensation

Whether or not you are eligible for workers' compensation benefits or you are able to sue your employer under one of the exceptions described above, you may also be able to pursue a third-party personal injury claim if someone other than your employer caused your injuries. Some common examples of defendants in third-party cases areare  contractors, subcontractors, property owners, negligent drivers, and manufacturers or distributors of defective products. The immunity rule under California's workers' compensation law only applies to your employer. You can sue any other person or entity that is responsible for your injuries.

Will an Attorney Charge Me for the Initial Consultation?

In California, workers' compensation lawyers must provide a free initial consultation to injured workers. The lawyer will evaluate your case and give you an idea of what it would take to handle your case. It would be in your best interest to go well prepared for this meeting with any questions or specific concerns you may have about your case. You can use this opportunity to decide whether the attorney you are speaking with has specific experience handling workers' comp and work injury cases – and decide if he or she is the lawyer you want to retain to represent you and fight for your rights.

Work injury lawyers in California are also paid on a "contingency fee" basis. This means your attorney will receive a percentage of the compensation they have helped secure in your case. You do not pay by the hour and you do not pay any fees if you don't receive compensation.

If your case was a third-party injury lawsuit, your lawyer will still receive a contingency fee based on the compensation they win for you. The bottom line is you do not have to pay any fees unless your case has been adjudicated and receive compensation for your losses.

Statute of Limitations

Statute of limitations refers to the time limit within which a lawsuit must be filed. In California, the statute of limitations for personal injury claims is generally two years from the date of the injury. However, because the statute of limitations could vary depending on the type of lawsuit you file, it is important that you consult with an experienced Los Angeles work injury lawyer as soon as possible.

Los Angeles Work Injury Lawyers

If you or a loved one has suffered a work-related injury in California, it is important to take that first step and schedule a free consultation with an experienced work injury lawyer. At Greenberg and Ruby, we have a long and successful track record of helping injured workers fight for their rights and secure maximum compensation for their losses. Whether you were injured on the job, away from your workplace or were injured by a third party, we can help evaluate your case and help you make the decisions that can help bring you the best outcome.

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