Can you sue your employer for negligence as an injured worker?
I answered a similar question last month here, but this month’s subject matter is different because it’s more specific. In particular, we’re dealing with the issue of negligence.
What is negligence?
To put it simply, negligence is an accident. Negligence can be attributed to an injured worker’s actions, an employer’s actions, neither, or both.
What if my employer was negligent and that is what caused my injury?
This is precisely what the workers’ compensation system is for. In other words, generally speaking, you are not going to be able to sue your employer successfully outside of the workers’ compensation system because workers’ compensation already assumes that negligence has occurred (after all, an accident did, in fact, happen, and this resulted in your injury). In other words, you’re not going to be able to sue your employer twice for the same thing; you can’t file a work comp claim and at the same time sue your employer separately for the exact same accident with the only difference being that you’re calling the second suit “negligence.” It’s all the same thing.
If you have been injured while working for your employer, and need to talk to a workers’ comp lawyer, don’t hesitate to give me a call at (424) 388-1001.
This can’t possibly be a good thing, can it?
Actually, the good thing about the workers’ compensation system in California is that it is a “no fault” system, which means that you’re covered even if you caused the accident at work. This is really helpful for employees. There are exceptions to this principle, of course. For instance, you can’t purposefully cause your injury; um… that’s fraud. Don’t do that.
But let’s say that you were texting while walking down a hallway at work, and you tripped because you weren’t paying attention to what you were doing. If the trip caused an injury, then, generally speaking, you would be covered for such an injury.
This works both ways, though. So, similarly, if your work has accidentally created a hazardous work environment (ex.: a wet floor), and is this causes an injury to you, then the employer is going to be protected from a separate negligence suit. You could only bring an action in this kind of a situation through the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (“WCAB”).
What if my employer was more than negligent?
If your employer was reckless, that’s a bit of a different story. You still have to go through the WCAB, but you have an additional type of claim on top of the worker injury. This is called a “serious and willful” claim. They are very hard to prove because you have the burden to demonstrate that your employer knew of a dangerous condition that was likely to cause injury and that your employer did nothing to fix that condition. What makes these cases so difficult to win is the fact that you have to prove “knowledge” on the part of the employer. It’s certainly not impossible to prove, but it is difficult, so you need to know precisely what evidence you must in your case if you believe that your employer behaved recklessly.
If you need help with assessing whether your employer’s actions were reckless, feel free to contact me to discuss this at no charge. I’ll give it to you straight one way or the other so that your mind can be at ease. Call me at 424.388.1001, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.