Workers’ Compensation Lawyer 101: Can You Sue Your Employer for Negligence as an Injured Worker?

California’s workers’ compensation system covers most workers injured on the job. It is the primary remedy for workplace injuries.

Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system. An employee can recover medical benefits and partial wage replacement regardless of who caused their injuries. In exchange, employees give up their right to sue their employer for an on-the-job accident.

However, some situations could give you legal standing to sue your employer for negligence as an injured worker. Four instances that might result in a negligence claim against your employer are:

Your Employer Does Not Have Workers’ Compensation Insurance Coverage 

California law requires employers to provide workers’ compensation coverage for employees, even if they only have one employee. 

California workers’ comp protects more employees than some other states. For example, Florida typically requires employers with four or more employees to provide workers’ compensation benefits, including medical, temporary or permanent disabilities, death benefits, to name a few.

The purpose of workers’ compensation is to ensure that injured employees receive quick and efficient medical care and disability payments

However, if the employer fails to provide workers’ compensation coverage for an employee, the employee might have the right to sue the employer for work-related injuries or illnesses. 

Your Employer Intentionally Caused Your Injuries

Workers’ compensation does not usually indemnify employers for intentional acts that injure employees. Assault is a common example of an intentional act that causes injury or harm.

However, proving that an employer intentionally hurt you can be challenging. You’ll need strong evidence to prove your case, such as witness testimony, video surveillance footage, and even expert medical testimony.

A Defective Machine or Faulty Piece of Equipment Caused Your Injury

If a defective machine or tool causes injury, you might have a claim against your employer if your employer:

  • Knew the equipment was defective
  • Required you to use the defective equipment
  • Knew or should have known that the defective product could result in an injury

Again, proving your employer knew that the product or machine was defective could be challenging. Instead, you may have more success suing the manufacturer under product liability law.

A third-party lawsuit for a defective product injury could be easier to prove. Most product liability claims are based on strict liability. Intent is not a legal requirement. You only need to show that the product was defective to win the case. 

You Were Exposed to Hazardous Chemicals in the Workplace

Employers have a duty to provide a safe work environment. When an employer knowingly exposes employees to toxic chemicals, the employees could have a negligence claim against the employer. When employees are required to handle hazardous materials, employers should provide the safety equipment necessary to protect employees from harm.

Why Would I Want to File a Negligence Claim Against My Employer?

Workers’ compensation provides limited benefits. You do not receive reimbursement for all lost wages. Furthermore, you do not receive compensation for pain and suffering damages.

In a negligence lawsuit, you can recover all of your lost wages and other financial damages. You may also recover compensation for non-economic damages. The compensation for permanent impairments may also be higher in a negligence claim.

Therefore, the damages you receive from a negligence lawsuit could be much more than you would receive for a workers’ compensation claim.

What Happens if I Am Partially to Blame for the Cause of My Workplace Injury?

Your fault does not impact your workers’ comp benefits in a workers’ compensation claim. Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system. You do not need to prove your employer was negligent to receive workers’ compensation benefits.

The exception would be if you intentionally caused your injury or were intoxicated at the time of your accident. You may not receive workers’ compensation benefits under those circumstances. 

If you can sue your employer for negligence, California’s pure comparative fault law would apply. If you are partially to blame for your injury, your compensation will be reduced by your percentage of fault. For example, if the jury finds you were 50 percent at fault, your compensation will be reduced by one-half.

How Do I Know If I Can Sue My Employer for Negligence in California?

The best way to understand your rights after a workplace injury is to consult a workplace accident lawyer. An attorney will analyze the circumstances of your injury to determine whether you have rights under tort laws. If you cannot file a negligence lawsuit, your injury should be covered by workers’ compensation.