Why can’t I sue my employer if I was hurt at work?
Can you sue your employer if you were hurt at work? The short answer to this question is “probably not.” In Pennsylvania, and most, if not all, states, when you are hurt at work, you are limited to the recovery of workers’ compensation benefits: lost wages, medical bills and, in some cases, a lump sum award. This is the result of what is known as the great “bargain” that was crafted during the Industrial Revolution. Before workers’ compensation laws, an inured worker was limited to filing suing the employer for his or her injuries. The problem was that the inured worker had to prove negligence. It was, and remains, very difficult and time-consuming to prove negligence on the part of the employer. Injuries were often caused by the negligence of a fellow worker or even the injured worker himself. Unfortunately, filing suit against a co-worker would not be fruitful as the judgement against them would probably not be recoverable.
Workers’ Compensation laws were the original form of no-fault legislation. The historic bargain is that employees give up the right to sue their employer (and co-workers) in exchange for quick payment of lost wages and medical bills without regard to the cause of the injury, without the need for lengthy litigation. There are very narrow exceptions to this.
Exceptions to Immunity
In Pennsylvania, an employee who causes intentional injury to himself or herself is not entitled to compensation. A co-worker may be sued for intentionally causing an injury. If an employer illegally fails to have workers’ compensation insurance in place, the worker has the option to sue in tort or to proceed against the Uninsured Employers’ Guaranty Fund.
In very rare cases an employer who intentionally causes injury to an employee may be sued. The classic example of this is where a battery manufacturer intentionally concealed toxic levels of lead in the blood of its employees.
Lawsuits against other “third” parties
Another very important thing to keep in mind is that if the injury is caused by a third party, they are not covered by the limited immunity provided by workers’ compensation laws. The most common examples of this would be a professional driver who is injured by the negligence of another motorist, or a worker who is injured by a defective machine. In instances such as this, it may be possible to bring what is known as a “third party tort action” against the other driver or manufacturer of the machine. Our Erie, PA workers’ compensation lawyers always evaluate the possibility of third-party claims when we represent injured workers.
All of these are complex situations and require expert analysis by a local, experienced personal injury attorney. If your injured at work, we will be happy to discuss your claim with you with no cost or obligation. We have law offices in Erie, PA, and Smethport, PA.