I Was Injured at Work. What Are My Legal Rights?

Nearly 3 million workers suffered a job-related injury or illness in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than 4,500 workers were killed on the job in the same year, adding up to nearly 90 deaths per week.

Regardless of who was at fault in the accident, workers injured on the job are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Workers’ compensation is a no-fault insurance program that provides compensation for lost wages, medical treatment, and temporary or permanent disability. In exchange for these guaranteed benefits, the injured employee gives up the right to sue the employer for pain and suffering or other damages (except in the case of an intentional act).

However, that is not to say the injured worker cannot bring a civil suit against anyone. In many workplace injury cases, the fault lies with a third party. Examples of situations in which an employee could file a personal injury suit include:

  • The injury was caused by a defective product; the worker could sue the manufacturer or distributor of the defective tool under product liability
  • The injury was caused by someone other than an employer or coworker, such as a vendor, repairman, or other person occupying the injured worker’s workplace; the worker could bring a personal injury claim against that person because he or she is not technically the worker’s employer
  • The injury was caused by someone not associated with the company at all (for example, you are making a delivery in a company vehicle when someone runs a red light and hits you); the worker could sue the other driver for damages as well as collect workers’ compensation for the injury
  • The employer does not carry workers’ compensation insurance; the worker could sue the employer or collect money from a state fund (like the New Jersey Uninsured Employer’s Fund)

The advantage of workers’ compensation is that, as a no-fault program, benefits are awarded quickly and automatically. Workers no longer have to go through a lengthy court process in order to receive benefits, costing precious time for an employee who is too injured to return to work right away.

But the disadvantage of workers’ compensation is that it does not provide full wage replacement or allow a worker to collect money for pain and suffering or other intangible damages. Workers’ compensation only provides for pre-approved medical expenses, disability, and about two-thirds of an employee’s average wages; all other losses, such as employer contributions to retirement plans, anticipated future medical care, pain and suffering, and the remaining lost wages must be recovered via personal injury claim.

Even if you choose to pursue only a workers’ compensation claim, you have every right to an attorney. Injured workers are entitled to adequate representation throughout the workers’ compensation process. When your employer and employer’s insurance carrier are stacked up against you, it is extremely beneficial to have a legal representative who can fight for your compensation.

Attorneys are prohibited from charging a fee in advance for legal services for workers’ compensation. Only a judge of compensation can award legal fees, and fees can only be ordered if a compensation award is made. In other words, it is in your best interest to be fully represented during the workers’ compensation process, and expenses are only incurred if your claim is successful.