Although work injury claims and personal injury claims are very similar, the fact that one occurs at work or while engaging in work-related activities significantly changes the legal aspects of the claim. The biggest difference is that worker injury claims do not consider fault while personal injury claims do.
It can sometimes be tricky to determine which type of claim you should bring, especially if your injury did not occur at work. A workers’ compensation lawyer can help you determine whether your situation should be brought under workers’ compensation law or personal injury law.
Negligence in Personal Injury Claims and Work Injury Claims
In virtually every personal injury case, a victim must show that someone or something else was the cause of their accident. This other entity can be completely at fault, or they could be partially at fault. The legal terminology for this type of fault is “negligence.”
That is, personal injury claims arise because someone was a wrongdoer. There is no comparable requirement for work injuries because they fall under workers’ compensation law. In workers’ compensation, it does often not matter who or what caused the injury—it only matters that there was an injury.
Another Difference: Damages
The available “award” or damages will vary depending on whether you bring your case under workers’ compensation law or under regular personal injury law. You cannot recover for pain and suffering under workers’ compensation law, which often means that the damages available are lower than a personal injury claim.
Workers’ compensation law also puts “caps” on awards for work injuries by classifying certain injuries and specifically limiting benefit amounts based on a certain number of weeks. You are also limited to recovering a specific percentage of your regular weekly wages as well. Workers’ compensation will usually cover medical bills and will occasionally provide vocational rehabilitation benefits, however.
In a personal injury case, you can allege every damage that your accident caused, including lost wages, future medical bills, pain and suffering, current medical bills, and future lost earnings. There is virtually no limitation on how much you can claim as damages.
The Tradeoff of Workers’ Compensation Versus Personal Injury Claims
The tradeoff for the lower amount of workers’ compensation damages is that claims are often easier to prove in workers’ comp compared to personal injury. You also start collecting benefits much faster than in a personal injury case. This is because personal injury claims do not recover damages until the end of the case (which can take years), but employers are required to pay benefits even while your contested workers’ comp case is pending. Workers essentially “trade” higher damage amounts for quicker repayment.
You are also usually not permitted to sue your employer or co-workers outside of workers’ compensation law. Again, this is part of the tradeoff—the employer gets to stay within the workers’ compensation system, and the employee gets a faster payment of benefits, medical benefits, and no fault evaluations.
There are a few situations where workers can assert a personal injury claim instead of a workers’ compensation claim, even when the injury occurred at work, but these situations are rare. Your workers’ compensation lawyer can discuss with you when your work injury might fall outside of workers’ compensation and how to make an appropriate claim.