Understanding Out of State Workers’ Compensation Claims

You live in California and work in management for a major construction company. Your company is thinking about taking jobs outside of California. They send you to Georgia to take a look at a potential job in Atlanta.

When you arrive in Atlanta, you put on your hard hat and accompany the project manager around the site to get a lay of the land. That’s when it happens. You trip and fall over some building materials that are sitting in the middle of the floor. When you fall, you land on your hands and damage them badly. You also hit your head.

Since you were injured while performing a task within the scope of your employment, you should be entitled to file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. However, where should you file that claim? Should you file a Georgia workers’ compensation claim because you got hurt in Atlanta? Or, should you file a claim in your home state of California, which happens to be where your employer is based?

The answer depends. Here’s what you need to know.

What is Workers’ Compensation?

Most employers – regardless of where they’re located – are required by state law to purchase and carry a workers’ compensation insurance policy. There are exceptions, namely for small companies with very few (or no) employees. This insurance policy is there to cover the costs of an accident when a worker gets hurt while performing a task within the scope of their employment. Most states, including California and Georgia, offer no-fault insurance. This means that workers can receive compensation regardless of why they got hurt or who’s to blame.

In exchange for benefits, workers waive the right to file a personal injury lawsuit against their employer. In theory, this limits litigation that can be expensive and time-consuming, while also making sure (in most cases) that injured workers have money to cover things like medical bills, lost wages, and disability.

Workers’ comp generally won’t cover 100 percent of a workers’ lost income. Instead, injured laborers can get a percentage of their average wage, up to a certain limit. The purpose is to ensure that workers continue to have a stream of income if they can’t work or can only work in a limited capacity.

Workers’ compensation laws vary from state to state.

So, where do you file a workers’ comp claim if you get hurt outside of the state where you’re typically employed?

You May Get to Pick the Jurisdiction Where You Seek Workers’ Comp Benefits

Generally speaking, injured workers actually have the right to choose where they file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. There are three possible scenarios.

  • You can file a claim in the state where you live
  • You can file a claim in the state where you got hurt, or
  • You can file a claim in the state where your company is primarily located.

For many workers, this will probably end up being the same state. This would be the case for someone who lives in Los Angeles and work in Los Angeles for a company based in California. Your choice would be limited to California.

However, things can change when you (a) work for a company that’s based in a different state or (b) get hurt while working away from your home state. So, you could potentially choose to collect workers’ compensation benefits in Georgia or in California.

You could realistically consider the laws of each state and determine which offered the best benefits for your particular situation.

Employers Have to Purchase Workers’ Compensation Insurance Carefully

Let’s say a company operates primarily in California. Would their workers’ compensation policy extend to Georgia? Maybe. Workers’ compensation policies are typically limited to one state. However, there are times when employees travel or work out of their home state for short periods of time. Some policies offer incidental coverage that extends to these situations.

When employers in California know or suspect that their employees might travel or work in a different state, they could choose to:

  • Purchase a policy that covers work-related injuries in specific states, or
  • Purchase a policy that has limited incidental coverage.

What if your employer’s workers’ compensation policy only applies to California and you want to recover benefits in another state? In that case, your employers’ insurer might decline to cover the cost of your injury. Alternatively, they might only agree to cover benefits that you’d be entitled to receive under California law. If that happened, your employer would probably be on the hook for any additional benefits you could receive in the other state.

Workers’ compensation claims can be complicated enough when they’re just limited to a single state. Things can get a lot more challenging when you’re injured on the job outside of your home state. The best thing you can do to protect your rights and maximize your recovery is to turn to an experienced Los Angeles workplace injury lawyer for help.