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Is workers' comp my only option following an on-the-job injury?

construction cartoon2.jpgSuffering a work-related injury can be devastating. In one fell swoop, you may be left unable to work and facing extensive medical treatment/rehabilitation. And, without a paycheck coming in, paying your bills is easier said than done.

Fortunately, injured workers in California may have legal options available to help cover their medical bills and lost wages, including workers' compensation benefits. However, one question our clients often have is whether workers' compensation is their only legal option following an on-the-job injury. The answer: it depends.

"Exclusive" doesn't necessarily mean exclusive

In many cases, injured workers are restricted to workers' compensation benefits -- meaning they typically cannot sue their employers or coworkers for damages related to their injury. In fact, California law expressly states that workers' comp is the "exclusive remedy" for employees injured at work. However, there are some very important exceptions to this rule.

For instance, an injured worker may be able to bring a claim against his or her coworker if:

  • The worker's injuries were caused by a coworker's willful and unprovoked attack
  • The worker's injuries were caused by a coworker's intoxication

Similarly, the injured worker may also be able to bring a claim against his or her employer if:

  • The worker's injuries were caused by an employer's willful physical assault
  • The worker's injuries are aggravated by an employer's fraudulent concealment of the existence of the injuries
  • The worker suffers an injury and the employer has neither workers' compensation nor self-insurance coverage

The most important exception: third-party claims

In addition to the exceptions listed above, you may also be able to pursue a legal claim besides workers' comp if your injury was caused by the negligence of someone other than your employer or coworker.

Otherwise known as a third-party claim in California, these types of suits often arise following construction accidents. For instance, you may be able to file a third-party claim against a negligent delivery driver, a different subcontractor or the manufacturer of a defective tool.

However, navigating California's complex workers' comp laws can be difficult, which is why you should always talk to an experienced attorney following an on-the-job injury. A skilled attorney can explain your rights and help ensure you pursue every legal option available.

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