On-the-job accidents are some of the most common causes of injuries that lawyers in our firm see on a regular basis. As most will know, those injured on the job are usually entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. However, the inquiry as to what remedies are available to an injured employee should not stop there. All too often, other viable claims that are available are overlooked and not pursued. Workers compensation is not the only avenue by which an injured employee can recover. To ensure a severely injured worker is adequately compensated for his or her injuries, the accident and surrounding circumstances must be thoroughly investigated.
Workers compensation is often referred to as an exclusive remedy, meaning that it is an injured employee’s only option for recovering damages as a result of his accident. Although that is the general rule, the term is misleading. As with most rules, there are myriad exceptions to workers compensation being the exclusive remedy for an injured employee. It is important to have a firm grasp on these exceptions to the workers compensation exclusive remedy principle when investigating an on-the-job injury.
Whether or not an exception to the rule applies often hinges on the facts and circumstances surrounding the injury. The investigation must be done by lawyers and investigators who are knowledgeable and experienced in the field of on-the-job injuries. When first investigating an on the job injury it is important to learn the following things:
Every time our lawyers review an on-the-job injury, they have a series of questions to be answered. It’s much like a checklist. If an injury is minor in nature, the inquiry into whether exceptions apply may end there. However, minor injuries are still covered under workers compensation, so it is important to know whether the employer is required to maintain workers’ compensation insurance under the given state’s laws. If the answer is yes, the inquiry becomes did they in fact have workers compensation insurance.
Minor injuries are where the exclusive remedy provision of workers’ compensation laws often works to the benefit of the injured employee. The injured employee will receive benefits for lost wages, medical care and rehabilitation, even if the worker plays some role in causing the injuries. This is often referred to as the “no fault” principle associated with workers’ compensation benefits.
If the on-the-job injury is severe in nature and the employer does not maintain workers’ compensation coverage, typically all workers’ compensation principles go out the window and the employee can bring an action in tort. However, if the employer does maintain workers’ compensation coverage, it is important to determine if any exceptions to the exclusive remedy principle apply. These exceptions vary from state to state, but some of the most common exceptions will be discussed.
After it is determined that an injury is severe, it is important to fully understand how the accident occurred. If the injured party played some role in his injury, workers’ compensation benefits may still be the best bet for recovering for those injuries. However, if the accident was the fault of others, one or more of the exceptions to the exclusive remedy principle may apply. One of the most common exclusions is third party liability. If some third party caused or contributed to the injured employee’s accident, the employee may have a cause of action in tort against that party.
Third party liability is commonly seen in the form of products liability. When an employee is injured on the job by a defective or unreasonably dangerous product, the employee likely can bring a products liability action. Other common exceptions stem from injuries caused by third parties working on the premises of the employer. Because there is no employment relationship between the injured and the third party, workers’ compensation does not apply.
In Alabama, there is another often overlooked exception to the workers’ compensation exclusive remedy principle. Under Ala. Code § 25-5-11(b), an employer that would be covered by workers’ compensation may be sued in tort if injury is caused by the employer’s willful conduct. Although this is an extremely difficult burden to carry, Ala. Code § 25-5-11(c)(2), is more easily proven. Under Ala. Code § 25-5-11(c)(2), an injured employee may bring an action in tort if a safety device is intentionally removed from a machine. These cases are very common and are easily overlooked unless a detailed investigation is conducted.
On-the-job accidents happen every day. Workers compensation can provide adequate remedies to those injured on the job. In minor injury cases or when the employee may have contributed to his accident, it is likely the best remedy and only option. Moreover, it is relatively quick and easy to file a claim and receive benefits. However, there are many shortfalls in the workers’ compensation laws and often times seriously injured employees do not receive adequate compensation. It is important to thoroughly investigate each on-the-job injury to ensure no viable claims or remedies are left on the table.
If you need more information on on-the-job injuries, contact Kendall Dunson or Evan Allen, lawyers in our firm’s Personal Injury/Product liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email Kendall.Dunson@beasleyallen.com or Evan.Allen@beasleyallen.com.
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