Does Accepting Workers' Comp Mean I Can't File a Lawsuit?

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Work injuries are hard. They often require extensive medical care and recovery time that prevent workers from earning a living. Workers' compensation helps injured workers pay for medical care while they are unable to work. In Pennsylvania, all workers are covered by some form of workers' compensation that will provide immediate assistance with lost wages and medical bills.

Theoretically, workers’ compensation provides a benefit to both employers and workers. Pennsylvania workers’ comp provides workers with the assurance that they’ll be taken care of after an injury, regardless of fault; they’re not required to file a lawsuit to recover what they need, which is appropriate for minor work-related injuries. While filing a personal injury claim against an employer offers justice and potentially better recovery, minor work-related injuries don’t qualify to file an injury lawsuit.

On the boss’ side, workers’ comp shields employers from liability for small or short-term injuries. In a sense, workers’ comp benefits are a way of saying, “It doesn’t matter whose fault it was; let’s just get you better.” If a worker is dealing with a minor sprain or strain, getting them immediate benefits without involving the courts is a time-saver for workers and management.

But workers who suffer serious harm—who lose months of their life to bedrest or the inability to work, whose careers suffer a years-long setback to a single accident—deserve more than just their medical benefits or partial paycheck protection. These are the workers who need compensation from as many sources as possible.

What does the law say about them?

Workers Are Barred from Suing After Collecting Workers’ Comp

In general, workers who collect workers’ compensation benefits are disqualified from filing a personal injury lawsuit against their employer. This is due to a legal concept called “exclusive remedy,” which means once a worker has received workers’ comp benefits from a provider, they waive their right to seek benefits in other ways from that same provider. Suing an employer after collecting benefits from their workers’ comp insurance would be the legal version of “double-dipping.”

This applies in the majority of cases. However, as with most things in the law, there are exceptions.

Exceptions to Filing a Lawsuit Along with Accepting Workers' Compensation

Three circumstances might allow an injured person receiving worker’s compensation to sue their employer for their injuries.

The first circumstance, which doesn’t apply in our state, is a person can sue their employer for failing to have adequate workers' compensation coverage. However, Pennsylvania law establishes a minimum amount of insurance required of all employers.

A second circumstance where a person can collect workers’ comp benefits and sue their employer is if they can prove intentional harm. Doing this requires a person to prove that the employer was more than negligent and caused their injury on purpose. For example, physical violence between a business owner and an employee could create the possibility of filing a personal injury claim while accepting workers' compensation. This takes the injury beyond what’s covered under workers’ comp policy and opens the employer up to additional liability.

The final circumstance is when a workplace injury is related to an employer’s OSHA violation. If OSHA determines that an employer violated federal regulations and it led to your injury, the law grants you the right to file a lawsuit to seek additional damages after claiming workers’ compensation benefits. Such an allowance incentivizes purchasing workers’ comp insurance and obeying federal regulations. If workers’ comp law gave employers total immunity, what reason would there be to obey federal rules about workplace safety?

Another Option for Employees Collecting Workers’ Comp Benefits

Exclusive remedy doesn’t prevent workers from seeking compensation from other parties. If, say, a construction worker suffered a fall from a height and started collecting workers’ comp benefits to cover medical bills. If the investigation of their accident found that a manufacturer or contracting company contributed to their injuries, they would be free to file a lawsuit against those parties.

These exceptions all have one thing in common: investigation. Even if your accident resulted from an OSHA violation, a deliberate act of sabotage, or the negligence of a manufacturer or third-party contractor, there’d be no way of knowing until someone who knew what to look for uncovered what happened.

As Pennsylvania workers’ comp lawyers, that’s what we offer our clients.

Having Issues with a Workers' Compensation Claim? Call Our Specialist Now at Handler, Henning & Rosenberg LLC

At Handler, Henning & Rosenberg LLC, we’re dedicated to helping workers obtain the compensation that they deserve after an accident. Attorney J. Jeffrey Watson is a certified specialist in the practice of workers' compensation law by the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Workers' Compensation Law Section as authorized by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. In other words, HHR has a team member who has dedicated a significant part of their practice to understanding the workers’ compensation system.

Whether you are trying to decide if you should accept workers' compensation or are having issues having a claim approved, HHR is ready to help. For nearly 100 years, our firm has been helping Pennsylvanians and clients across the nation recover after suffering from the negligence of another person. We know what’s at stake, and we’re ready to fight for the results you deserve.

Contact our workers' compensation lawyers today at (888) 498–3023 to find out more about your options through a free consultation.

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