When Can I Sue for Damages Outside of Workers’ Compensation?

Most people are familiar with workers’ compensation and how it supports injured workers. Although workers’ comp can be a vital safety net when employees suffer injuries or illnesses due their work – and provide needed medical benefits, supplemented wages, and vocational rehabilitation – the process is distinct from civil personal injury lawsuits. Here is a brief explanation:

  • Workers’ Compensation – Workers’ compensation is a type of no-fault insurance carried by most employers as a means to provide benefits to employees who suffer injuries during the course of performing job-related duties, or occupational illnesses. Workers’ comp is not a lawsuit. In fact, by accepting workers’ compensation, employees agree to relinquish any claims against an employer.
  • Personal Injury Lawsuits – Personal injury lawsuits are handled in civil court, and they involve claims brought by injured parties against another they alleged caused them preventable harm and losses as a result of negligent or wrongful acts. The success of a personal injury lawsuit is contingent upon a victim’s ability to prove their claims.

Understanding the differences between workers’ compensation and civil injury lawsuits is important, as there may be circumstances where workers who suffer job-related injuries or illnesses may have the right to seek financial compensation outside of workers’ compensation. When they do, they have the opportunity to recover damages that are otherwise not available through workers’ comp. This most notably includes non-economic damages, such as a person’s pain and suffering, mental anguish, and other emotional injuries. It can also include punitive damages, which are intended to serve as a form of punishment for wrongdoers who cause preventable harm as a result of egregious or intentional act. Punitive damages are not available in every case.

Exploring Your Options After a Work Injury or Illness

As a firm that focuses our practice on both workers’ compensation and personal injury law, our legal team at Leonard Law Group is able to comprehensively evaluate our clients’ cases, and help them explore all of their potential options for recovering the compensation they need. Although we assist many injured workers in navigating the steps toward a successful workers’ compensation claim, we still review the merits of their case to determine if they may be able to sue outside of workers’ comp.

While your options are dependent on the unique circumstances surrounding your accident, there are a few examples of when it may be possible to seek compensation outside of workers’ compensation and through the civil justice system. These include:

  • Third Party Negligence – Exploring third party liability is an important part of any work injury case, as it may provide the opportunity for victims to secure a broader scope of damages. While cases may vary, injured workers may have the right to pursue a personal injury case against a third party (i.e. a party that is NOT their employer) if that party’s negligence caused their accident and injury. Common examples of such a scenario would be a construction accident caused by a negligent contractor performing work on the same construction site, or a car accident caused by another motorist. Although this pathway is available, it does require victims to prove certain legal elements, such as the existence of a legal duty between defendant and victim, the defendant’s breach of their “duty of care,” and actual damages.
  • Product Liability – Workers in many industries rely on various products, equipment, tools, and machinery in order to perform their duties. When these products are designed, manufactured, or marketed in such a way that makes them unsafe, and workers suffer harm as a result, product manufactures may be held liable for damages victims suffer under product liability laws.
  • Toxic Torts – Workers who suffer occupational illnesses can suffer tremendously. Should the cause of that illness stem from unsafe or hazardous substances and materials, workers can explore their rights for pursuing a toxic tort. This civil legal action holds manufacturers and other corporations accountable for preventable harms and damages victims suffer due to chemical exposure.
  • Premises Liability Premises liability laws obligate property owners to ensure the safety of their premises, and take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of visitors and guests, including workers who perform jobs on their property. Depending on the circumstances and nature of work, workers who suffer injures while on another’s property as a result of hazards property owners knew or should have known about, but failed to address, may have the right to hold the property owner accountable.
  • Intentional Injury – There are very limited circumstances for workers to file civil lawsuits against an employer following work-related injuries. However, one exception is when an employer intentionally and knowingly harms an employee. In this situation, such as when an employer physically assaults an employee, the injured worker may be able to pursue a civil lawsuit.

Call For a FREE Personalized Case Evaluation

Every accident case is unique, which is why exploring your available options with proven and experienced attorneys is so crucial to taking the most appropriate steps toward the compensation you deserve. At Leonard Law Group, our Chicago injury lawyers have helped guide thousands of clients throughout Illinois through their unique workers’ compensation and personal injury journeys, and is available to help learn more about your rights, options, and what we can do to help.

To request a FREE case review, contact us today.

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