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Can I Sue for a Workplace Injury?

“Then what they call an industrial accident crushed those it couldn’t forgive. They brought Billy’s father back home in an ambulance. Brass watch, a cheque, maybe three weeks to live.” 

Sting’s “Island of Souls” lyrics from his 1991 Soul Cages album poetically describe a tragic workplace accident and its devastating effect on a shipbuilder’s family. While many workplace accidents result in death, many more result in serious injuries that can have lasting impact on a person’s ability to work and earn a living. If you or a loved one has sustained a workplace injury, you may be feeling overwhelmed and wondering what your options are to get the medical care you need, and the settlement you deserve. 

What Happens When An Employee Is Injured At Work In California?

(Image)In California, if you get hurt while on the job, your employer is required by law to pay for workers’ compensation benefits including medical treatment and income. Workers’ compensation covers injuries sustained during a one-time event, such as an explosion in a factory, and injuries due to repeated exposure over a period of time, such as repetitive movements performed as part of your job. In order to take advantage of workers’ compensation benefits, you will need to file a claim through the state workers’ compensation system.

Generally, if you are injured in the course of performing your job in California, you cannot directly sue your employer. Instead, you must utilize the California workers’ compensation system to obtain compensation for your injuries. However, there are a few important exceptions allowing you to file a lawsuit against third parties:

    • Defective products – if you were injured by a defective product, you may be able to sue the product manufacturer by filing a product liability claim. 
    • Toxic substances – if you were injured by exposure to a toxic substance, you may be able to sue the manufacturer of that substance. 
    • Intentional conduct – If your job-related injury or illness was due to the intentional conduct of your employer, you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against them.
    • Employer uninsured – If your California employer does not carry workers’ compensation insurance (in violation of state law), you may be able to sue them.
    • Third party liability – If a third party (such as an equipment manufacturer) was responsible for your injuries, you may be able to sue them directly.

In summary, filing a claim through the California workers’ compensation system may not be your only recourse for obtaining the workplace compensation you deserve after a workplace accident or illness. You might also have a third-party personal injury lawsuit to obtain additional benefits or improved medical care options.

What’s the Difference Between Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury Work Cases?

Filing a California Workers’ Compensation Claim

In order to file a California workers’ compensation claim, there are several VITALLY important steps you must take. As soon as possible after the workplace injury, or as soon as you come to believe it is job-related, you should:

  1. Report the injury or illness to your employer. How long do employees have to report an injury in California? In California, you must report your injury or illness to your employer within 30 days, or you may be ineligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits. For injuries or illness that developed over time, you must report it to your employer as soon as you learn or believe it may have been caused by your job.
  2. Fill out a DWC 1 claim form and submit it to your employer. They are required to provide you with a claim form within one working day of you reporting your injury or illness. Submitting this form to your employer officially opens your workers’ compensation case, and qualifies you for certain benefits immediately, such as up to $10,000 in medical treatment while your claim is being processed.  
  3. Seek emergency medical attention for your injury: If necessary, seek emergency treatment immediately for your injury or illness. Otherwise, seek medical attention after you have reported your injury or illness to your employer. Unless you have gone through the specific process of pre-designating your personal physician to treat your workplace injuries, you will be required to see a specific doctor or medical group that is contracted with your employer. In either case, be certain to tell the healthcare provider that you believe your injury or illness is job-related.

California Workers’ Compensation Benefits

There are five specific benefits that you may be entitled to by filing a claim through the California Workers’ compensation system, including:

  • Medical care – your employer pays for your medical care while you recover from a job-related illness or injury.
  • Temporary disability benefits – you receive payments if you are unable to work temporarily due to your job-related illness or injury.
  • Permanent disability benefits – you receive payments if you do not completely recover from your job-related illness or injury.
  • Supplemental job displacement benefits – you receive vouchers for retraining or skill development if you are unable to return to your current job due to your job-related illness or injury.
  • Death benefits – your spouse, children, or other dependents receive payments in the event you die from your job-related illness or injury. 

For more detailed information, consult the California Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) frequently asked questions page. 

Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit Versus a CA Workers Comp Claim

It is important to note that filing a workers’ compensation claim in California does not necessarily preclude you from also filing a personal injury lawsuit. In fact, while the workers’ compensation system may provide you with the valuable benefits listed above, workers’ compensation benefits do not include punitive damages or compensation for pain and suffering. Filing a personal injury lawsuit is the only option that allows you to pursue the responsible party for these damages. 

In California, there are specific instances in which you can file a personal injury lawsuit against your employer, outside of the workers’ compensation system. California employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. If your employer violated the law and did not carry workers’ compensation insurance at the time of your illness or injury, you would be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against them. 

In the event that a third-party is potentially liable for your injuries, you will need to file a third-party personal injury lawsuit in order to obtain compensation. Liable third-parties may include:

  • A product manufacturer — for example, the manufacturer of faulty machinery that caused an injury in a factory
  • A negligent property owner — such as the owner of an unsafe commercial building where a contractor was hurt while installing flooring
  • A third-party company or contractor — such as a construction worker who was hit by a forklift that was being operated by another contractor

There are many advantages to filing a third-party personal injury lawsuit instead of, or in addition to your workers’ compensation claim. Many people are not even aware that they have the option to pursue damages through a workers’ compensation lawsuit. It is ESSENTIAL that you consult with an attorney who specializes in personal injury law to understand your options before filing.

Benefits of Personal Injury Cases

In California, there are a few important distinctions that can make filing a personal injury lawsuit a more favorable option over filing a claim through the workers’ compensation system.

The Power to Choose Your Own Physician for Medical Care

According to the California workers’ compensation system requirements, a victim of a workplace accident must see a pre-selected doctor that is already contracted through the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance. Oftentimes, these doctors are quick to send employees back to work as soon as possible, which can result in some victims resuming work before they are truly ready. However, with a personal injury lawsuit, victims have more flexibility to choose their own independent physician who has no ties to their employer or their insurance company.

Your Attorney Can Argue for Fair Compensation vs. Predetermined Limit

In the California workers’ compensation system, the amount of compensation a victim can receive is predetermined based on the type of injury that occurred. In contrast, a third-party personal injury lawsuit case allows the attorney to argue how much money in damages should be awarded based on a victim’s unique circumstances. This freedom to argue for a fair  settlement rather than one based on a predetermined total has the potential to result in a much larger settlement for the victim. As mentioned previously, in personal injury cases, the attorney can also argue for specific damages not available in workers’ compensation claims, such as costs associated with the case and punitive damages.

What You Should Do After Your Workplace Injury

Whether your specific circumstances fall into the category of a traditional California workers’ compensation case, a third-party personal injury case, or a case where you have grounds to directly sue your employer, you will be best-served by having an experienced attorney review the details and represent you. This is the most effective way to ensure you understand your rights and get the highest level of compensation possible.

Whatever you choose, DO NOT sign a workers’ compensation settlement without first consulting with a personal injury attorney. Remember — once you sign a settlement agreement, it cannot be undone. A lawyer who focuses on personal injury law will be able to determine if you have grounds to file a personal injury lawsuit in place of, or in addition to, your workers’ compensation claim. If a lawsuit is not appropriate in your case, they can direct you to a reputable workers’ compensation attorney to guide you through the process of filing your workers’ compensation claim.

A CZ Law Attorney Can Help with Your Workplace Injury Case

If you have been injured on the job in California, don’t wait to contact the experienced attorneys at Carpenter & Zuckerman. We have obtained more than $2 billion in settlements and verdicts for injury and wrongful death victims.

Our firm proudly serves clients throughout California and other states, maintaining offices in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, Garden Grove, Irvine, San Diego, Bakersfield, and Las Vegas.

With a job-related illness or injury potentially impacting your ability to provide for your family for years to come, you NEED the experienced professionals at CZ Law fighting tirelessly to obtain the best result in your case. Contact us today at the phone number listed below, or fill out our contact form to arrange for a FREE consultation!

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