For many workers, the question “can I sue for a work-related injury” is a critical one. If you’re injured outside of work, you often have to sue the person who harmed you to seek compensation. But suing your employer for injury is not the typical way to seek compensation if you were hurt on the job. That’s where workers’ compensation comes into the picture.
The law is anything but straightforward, and this area can get confusing fast. Let’s answer some of the common questions I receive as a workers’ compensation and personal injury lawyer.
I Was Injured on the Job, Can I Sue My Boss?
If you mean to press charges or “sue” in the traditional sense, then no – you are not usually allowed to do so in North Carolina and most other states. But that’s not the end of the discussion.
If you want to know if you can receive compensation for a qualifying injury at work, then that answer is probably yes. You would pursue that compensation through the workers’ compensation system.
Does the Workers’ Compensation System Prevent Me From Suing My Boss?
Generally, yes. Before workers’ compensation laws were in place, if you got hurt on the job, you would have to sue your employer for the damages.
As we all know, the court system can be a long, drawn-out process. And if you’re hurt, you probably don’t have time to waste.
So workers’ compensation laws were designed to provide a quicker route for an injured employee to seek medical benefits and payment for wages lost.
The benefit for employers is that they’re not generally personally responsible for damages when you’re hurt on the job.
How Is a Workers’ Comp Claim Different Than a Lawsuit?
Since workers’ comp is a “no-fault” system (meaning it does not need to be determined who caused the accident, and no one is liable), things work a little differently from other types of legal claims. For one, employers are generally required to have workers’ compensation insurance. State law also details the types of losses the injured worker may receive compensation for, such as medical bills and payment of partial income while out of work.
On the flip side, state law also limits the areas in which the insurance company is responsible. For instance, injured workers are not allowed to recover from the insurance company any money for pain and suffering experienced as a result of a work-related injury, no matter how painful the injury or how long such pain lasts.
Call Out: Have you been fired for making a workers’ compensation claim? You may have a claim for wrongful termination.
What Happens if the Insurance Company Denies a Valid Claim?
Certainly, there will be times when an insurance company will not agree to pay all or part of a workers’ compensation claim. When that happens, disputes are decided by the North Carolina Industrial Commission. Those disputes may involve hearings before a Deputy Commissioner, and take on some of the same aspects of a traditional lawsuit.
The primary differences, however, are that lawsuits are voluntarily brought in civil courts where juries make final decisions. In contrast, North Carolina workers’ compensation law requires employers to report injuries and disputes to be resolved by Deputy Commissioners who usually have significant experience applying the specific laws.
What if My Employer Wanted to Injure Me?
As with most things related to the law, there are exceptions to the general rule that all work injuries go through the workers’ comp system and not the courts. Sometimes, the answer to the question, “I’ve been injured at work, can I sue?” is yes.
The exception to the “no suing” rule is if your employer acted in a way that may have been intentional.
For example, if your boss got angry and whacked you over the head with a chair, you would probably be able to sue them personally.
A less clear situation might be if your boss didn’t report something, like a dangerous chemical he/she was storing on site, and it injured you. In this situation, if your employer intentionally hid the dangers of something from you, then you might be able to sue him or her.
How Long Do I Have to Sue?
The statute of limitations to pursue a personal injury claim in North Carolina is generally three years. Remember, though, things get confusing fast in the law. In the example above of an employer hiding a danger, does the clock start when the danger begins? When your employer becomes aware of it? When you get injured?
As a practical matter, as time goes on, the harder it can be to locate any evidence. The safest rule of thumb is to contact an attorney as soon as you suspect you might have a case that sounds like the examples above.
What Does the Lawsuit Process Look Like?
Often, a claim you make is not really against a person, but their insurance company. For many cases, suing takes the form of negotiations between your attorney and the insurance adjuster. If a case can’t be solved through negotiation, the case may proceed to trial.
There are four steps to the litigation process. Any of these steps can be cut short if an agreement is reached by the two sides.
- Filing: The first step is for your attorney to file the suit.
- Discovery: After a suit is filed and the other side answers, the next step is discovery. This is where the two sides exchange key records and information.
- Mediation: Mediation is often the next stage, where a third party leads a negotiation that can potentially produce a binding agreement.
- Trial: If that fails, the two sides may proceed to step four: the trial.
The vast majority of cases are resolved before trial.
Do I Need an Attorney to Sue My Employer?
You want an attorney to seek justice against your employer, but which kind of attorney you want depends on how you’re seeking it. In the rare case that you’re suing your employer for an on the job injury, you’ll want a personal injury lawyer. However, for most on the job injuries, workers should pursue compensation for their injuries and bills with the help of a workers’ compensation lawyer.
Need an NC Workers’ Compensation Attorney?
We have an entire department of lawyers dedicated to workers’ compensation cases.
Several lawyers on our workers’ compensation team are North Carolina State Bar Board Certified Specialists in Workers’ Compensation law, several used to work for workers’ compensation insurance companies, and two of our attorneys used to work for the North Carolina Industrial Commission (the legal body in charge of enforcing workers’ comp laws).