If you were hurt at work, on the jobsite, or while you were performing duties for your employer, you may be eligible for various types of workers’ compensation benefits (“workers’ comp”), and you may also have a claim for negligence. Do you have to sue your employer to get your workers’ compensation benefits? What benefits are you entitled to? Who pays? Can you make a claim against your employer for negligence? Who else might be responsible for your damages and financial losses? An experienced workers’ compensation and personal injury attorney can help you answer these and other legal questions and work for you to obtain the benefits and compensation that you are entitled to.
Can you get fired for filing a workers’ comp claim?
This question is asked frequently. The answer is no, legally they cannot. This sort of retaliation is prohibited by law. Your employer or boss also is not permitted to try to dissuade you from filing a claim for benefits if you are entitled to workers’ comp. If your employer does either of these things, you should consult an attorney and make a report to the workers’ compensation commission. You should also be aware that filing a claim for workers’ compensation benefits does not mean that you are “suing” your employer.
Was it a Workplace Injury?
One of the first issues that an attorney will examine in evaluating your potential claims is whether or not your injury constitutes a workplace injury under the law. You may or may not realize that most employers must have workers' compensation insurance to pay for medical bills and lost wages and assist with receiving any necessary accommodations at work. Injuries could involve a fall from a roof or other structure while making repairs, black lung from working in coal mines, carpal tunnel due to repetitive motion and multiple hours at a computer, or a slipped disc while a nurse is assisting in moving a patient. Only injuries that are related to a requirement or condition of your employment, however, are considered eligible for compensation under workers’ comp.
How do you know if your injury is considered “work-related?” Work-related injuries are those that occur while you are engaged in some activity on behalf of your employer or in some other way in the course of your work. Most injuries that qualify will be those that happen in the workplace, but work-related injuries also often occur on location at a client’s place of business, in a company vehicle, at a company-sponsored event, etc. The determining factor as to whether or not you are eligible for workers’ comp benefits is whether or not you were doing something that was connected to your job at the time of your injury. Even an injury that occurs while you are at lunch could potentially be covered by workers’ comp insurance if you were having lunch with a client.
Are you covered by your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance?
If the company you are working for has workers’ compensation insurance (and most are required to by state law), does it cover you? In order to be eligible for workers’ comp benefits, you must be considered and properly listed by your employer as a true employee, rather than an independent contractor. In addition, certain workers may or may not be covered by workers’ comp under state law, such as babysitters, housekeepers, seasonal workers, volunteers, or illegal immigrants. Claims for workers’ compensation benefits in Virginia are handled exclusively through the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney will be able to assist you in determining if you are eligible for benefits.
What benefits are you entitled to?
Generally, workers’ comp insurance pays for the following:
- Your medical bills that are related to the workplace injury
- A percentage of your lost income while you are unable to work
- Expenses associated with training you for another job if you cannot return to the job you were doing when you were injured
- A lump sum payment for any of your injuries that are deemed to be permanent
- Survivors’ benefits to the families of workers who are killed in a workplace accident
Can you sue your employer? What if someone else is liable?
These questions may seem simple, but they involve complex answers and vary by state. We will address the law in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The easier question to answer is what happens if someone other than your employer was negligent and it was their negligence that caused your workplace injury? You can make a civil claim against the responsible party to recover for your pain and suffering. This could be another motorist who caused an accident while you were driving a company truck, an independent company who performed work at your place of employment and created a dangerous condition, a manufacturer or equipment rental company, etc. That negligence claim would not be handled by the Workers’ Compensation Commission. It would be a matter that would be handled separately as a tort claim in civil court. If you are successful, you may receive a broad range of damages, such as medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and mental anguish. If you recover money for your damages from that third party, however, you will be required to reimburse the workers’ comp insurance company for the benefits that they paid to you. This process is often referred to as “subrogation.”
The more difficult question to answer is whether or not you can sue your employer. In Virginia, as in many states, if you are hurt at work and are entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits, you are generally not able to sue your employer for damages, as workers’ comp claims are meant to be your sole remedy against your employer. This is sometimes called the “workers’ compensation bar,” because it bars you, under the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act, from suing your employer for additional damages. In some very limited instances, you can successfully sue your employer for intentional acts that caused you injuries. In Virginia, in effect, your employer would have to have planned to hurt you and cause you damages in order for you to have a successful negligence claim against them. It is certainly not impossible, but it is very difficult.
If you have been hurt or a loved one has been killed in a workplace injury, there are a variety of benefits and claims that may be available to you, including workers’ compensation benefits, a claim against a negligent third party, and the very slim chance of a claim against your employer. In order to determine which benefits you are entitled to and what negligence claims you may have if any, you should consult an experienced workers’ compensation and personal injury attorney as soon as possible to ensure that you protect and preserve your rights. Contact the attorneys at the Halperin Law Center to discuss your potential claims and compensation at 804-527-0100 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
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