- February 9, 2024
- Attorney Matt Stoddard
- Personal Injury
Suffering a back injury at work could mean serious pain, debilitation, and significant time off the job. With no money coming in, the potential for financial ruin for an injured worker is often high. Fortunately, workers’ compensation is available in most cases, but it is often not enough to completely cover an injured worker’s losses. This leads many to wonder: Can you sue an employer for a back injury?
Can You Sue an Employer for a Back Injury at Work?
In most cases, the answer to the question “Can you sue an employer for a back injury at work?” is no. Georgia has a workers’ compensation system in place that handles the lion’s share of worker injury cases in the state. This system takes the place of personal injury claims and lawsuits against employers. Instead of suing their employer, an injured worker seeks compensation directly from the employer’s workers’ compensation policy for benefits based on legislated coverage amounts.
Why Can’t You Sue an Employer?
Workers are usually barred from suing their employer in exchange for guaranteed workers’ comp benefits without the need to prove liability. Instead of gathering evidence and building a case for negligence, an injured worker must simply seek benefits. Because they are not required to prove liability, they receive compensation far more quickly than they would through a personal injury lawsuit.
Lawmakers feel that a properly functioning workers’ compensation system is far more adept at handling workers’ injuries than individual lawsuits. Additionally, allowing individual lawsuits against employers for every work injury that occurs would likely gum up the wheels of business and commerce and lead to serious labor problems.
As with many laws, there are exceptions to the prohibition on workers’ suing their employers. One of them triggers when the employer of an injured worker does not have workers’ comp insurance. Without a valid workers’ comp policy in place, the employer is exposed to being sued by the worker although the amounts available in this circumstance are often limited as well.
Another exception occurs when the employer intentionally causes or endorses the worker’s back injury. For example, if an employer pushes one of their employees and causes a back injury, the employer can likely be sued.
One of the most important distinctions between workers’ comp claims and lawsuits against employers lies in the different types of compensation available. Workers’ comp benefits are a relatively quick lifeline for injured workers, but they are limited. They provide only a portion of a worker’s lost wages and zero compensation for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, disability, and loss of enjoyment of life.
If, however, a worker is allowed to sue their employer for a back injury, they can pursue full compensation for economic and non-economic damages. Non-economic damages in personal injury matters include:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional trauma and distress
- Loss of consortium.
Punitive damages are also on the table if an employer’s injurious actions were willful or malicious or exhibited utter disregard for the injured worker’s safety.
Can You Sue for a Back Injury at Work?
Can you sue for a back injury at work if your employer has workers’ comp insurance? The answer is that it depends. As you now know, you cannot normally sue your employer for a work injury, nor can you sue other employees. However, you may potentially sue a third party if it caused your back injury.
A third party is a person or an entity that is not a part of your employment team but has some connection to the workplace. For example, a forklift manufacturer has a connection to warehouses and other worksites through its product and is thus a third party. Similarly, a local restaurant that provides catering services for a business is connected to that business.
Other examples of third parties include:
- The owner of the worksite property
- Delivery drivers
- Utility workers
- Customers and clients
- The general public.
As with direct lawsuits against employers (when allowed), lawsuits against third parties permit injured workers to seek full economic and non-economic damages as well as punitive damages when appropriate.
You May Be Entitled to More Than Workers’ Comp
If you have suffered a back injury at work, you should inform your employer and seek benefits. However, depending on your circumstances, you may be entitled to compensation beyond what you receive from workers’ comp. To learn if you can potentially sue your employer or someone else (even though they say you can’t), you are strongly advised to meet with an attorney.
Keep in mind that your employer is not a qualified legal advisor, but they may try to give you legal advice that ultimately favors them. A work injury lawyer will review your case to determine what your rights are and inform you if you are forgoing benefits by only filing a workers’ comp claim.
Workers’ Comp and a Lawsuit
In some cases, it’s even possible to seek workers’ comp benefits on top of damages from a third-party lawsuit or a lawsuit against your employer. For example, if you hurt your back due to a negligent furniture mover from another company or a violent employer, you can sue the furniture company or the employer and file a claim for workers’ comp benefits.
Eventually, however, the insurance company that pays your compensation will have the right to seek reimbursement for what it paid you once you receive a third-party settlement or verdict. There is no double dipping. The benefit of filing a workers’ comp claim and a third-party lawsuit for the same act is that it gives you much faster access to medical care coverage and wage replacement through workers’ comp. A personal injury case could take months or even longer to resolve.
A Work Injury Lawyer Can Help
Back injuries are among the most common types of injuries suffered on the job today. If serious enough, they can lead to significant time off work, pain, and disability. If you have suffered a back injury at work and need compensation, don’t hesitate to seek legal representation to determine who should pay.
To learn about your options for compensation and potential representation, call (470) 467-2200 for a free consultation with a work injury lawyer from The Stoddard Firm.