Workers’ compensation is a federally required workers’ insurance program administered by the states that provides benefits for both employees and employers. Injured employees are assured that they can receive immediate medical attention when being injured on the job while employers are exempt from liability for a personal injury lawsuit as long as they comply with all rules and regulations that govern their particular industry regarding a safe work environment. The program was never intended as a whole compensation system for injured employees. In fact, it is specifically designed to protect employers from this possibility unless the injured plaintiff can prove negligence, which in turn allows for a lawsuit pursuing general damages for long-term impact of the injury. Also known as non-economic general damages, punitive damages could potentially be awarded as well when “gross” negligence can be demonstrated by the plaintiff’s legal counsel in a trial.
All Injury Cases are Not Equal
One of the problems with the workers’ compensation system is that the true severity of the injury is not as important as the surrounding circumstances when financial compensation is being determined. Similar to contract consideration, the employer is more protected than the worker with respect to their level of consideration. All injured employees with resulting serious long-term medical problems are not made whole without standing to file a negligence suit, and employers know this. However, this does not stop employers from still breaking the rules regarding safety and then attempting to cover it up after an employee is injured. Safety requirement non-compliance is often why an employer contests an on-the-job injury claim. While employees who are injured in unsafe working conditions can still file for non-economic damages, employers and their workers’ compensation insurance providers will defend a case vigorously to stop the legal action.
Proving Negligence by the Employer
Building a strong case against a negligent employer is not an easy task. Many employers have already evaluated this situation and have a specific company policy in place when injured employees file a lawsuit. Plaintiff attorneys must prove an injury occurred that is either directly or indirectly related to their client’s employment. It is not necessary for the injury to occur as a result of an on-the-job accident, as there have been many successful general damage claims won based on repetitive motion disorders or injuries that have manifested over a long time period. Asbestos exposure is a prime example of this type of injury, as is carpal tunnel syndrome. In addition, there are many injuries that cannot be contested that employers will still attempt to cover up. Employer non-compliance with OSHA rules and regulations is proof of negligence, and a comprehensive workers’ compensation attorney will conduct an in-depth investigation looking for any sign of negligence by the employer. This is especially true for those clients with a permanent or long-term injury that could result in a disability ruling.
Non-economic damages for permanent injuries occurring at work can result in a very significant settlement when negligence can be proven. Standard recovery for medical bills and lost wages provided with workers’ compensation are still available, but compensation for ongoing difficulties in life is also allowed based on the level of negligence by the employer. Moderate negligence levels can result in smaller awards while cases of gross negligence can result in very substantive awards from a sympathetic jury. Also known as punitive damages, these payments can only be required following a trial when a jury awards compensation beyond the standard definitive amount of special damages elements along with general damages for long-term pain-and-suffering.
How This Benefits the Injured Worker
It is important for all injured workers to understand when they may have standing for a non-economic general damages claim. When an employer is not contesting a workplace injury, it could be because they know that they are non-compliant in some manner and do not want the case in standard court. This way they can avoid a personal injury lawsuit and keep the case within the state workers’ compensation system even if it will impact their insurance premium rates. Of course, this does not keep the insurance provider from being difficult, but any resistance from the insurer could also generate an investigation that employers would just as soon not see happen. This sets a scenario where an aggressive workers comp attorney can negotiate a high-value settlement with no public disclosure that better compensates the employee while the employer protects themselves in settling the issue. An experienced workplace injury lawyer will understand this negotiation leverage advantage for their client.
Always remember that a workplace injury could be much more valuable than realized regardless of the superficial appearances of circumstances. The claim could become very valuable when an experienced workplace injury lawyer begins an investigation. A workers comp attorney is not only a legal representative, but they are also prosecutors of sorts in civil cases such as w workplace injury, and they are always focused on maximizing the client’s financial compensation because it in turn increases their personal compensation. No matter the attitude of the employer or the worker’s comp insurance provider, always discuss the injury case with a reputable workers comp attorney.