When can an injured worker sue his or her employer for a work-related injury? The answer you might hear from many lawyers is simply, “never.” Although it’s true that workers’ compensation is generally considered to be injured workers’ “exclusive remedy,” there are some exceptions to that rule. But identifying those situations when an employee can take legal action against his employer can prove challenging. That’s also why it’s important to contact an experienced lawyer to make sure you’re not letting a responsible party off the hook.
As a general rule, workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy for injured workers against their employer or coworkers. In fact, New Hampshire’s law (which is similar to many other states’) says: “An employee…shall be conclusively presumed…to have waived all rights of action… against the employer or the employer’s insurance carrier.” NH RSA 281-A:8, I.
Fortunately, there are some exceptions to that rule. One exception allows injured workers to bring actions for “intentional torts” committed by their employer or co-employees. So, what’s an intentional tort? “Intent” means that the other party must have believed your injury was substantially certain to result from his act. Put more simply, the person must have purposefully caused your injury – a fact that can be very difficult to prove in court.
Still, there are a few other ways that an injured worker can pursue legal action against the employer. One would be in a wrongful discharge claim (NH RSA 281-A:8, III). Similarly, actions brought under federal laws, such as a §1983 claim, an A.D.A. claim, or Title VII claims for discrimination would also not be barred by the exclusivity provision.
More common, though, are legal actions brought against “third parties.” A third party is a person or entity unrelated to the employer who is liable for your injuries. A common example of a third party case involves a travelling employee who is injured in a car accident by a negligent driver. Another type of third party case occurs when a defective piece of equipment – one that is designed, owned or maintained by a third party – causes a worker’s injury.
Not all third party claims are immediately apparent. Still, these claims should always be investigated because they can give injured workers an opportunity to recover compensation far greater than what is available through the workers compensation system.
If you think someone is responsible for the injury you’ve suffered at work, don’t hesitate to contact a lawyer. If you wait too long, it can become harder to obtain the evidence you need to win.