The answer to this question depends on how you got hurt at work.
Workers’ Compensation is a system allowing employees to recover against their employers for injuries they suffer on the job. Workers don’t have to prove the employer did anything wrong; in fact, an employee can usually recover Workers’ Compensation benefits from their employer even when it was their own fault they got injured. Workers’ Compensation benefits include medical treatment for the injury, payments for lost wages while missing work due to the injury, and payments for any permanent disabilities caused by the injury. However, workers are not allowed to recover pain and suffering payments or punitive damages (money provided to injured people for any especially bad actions by defendants) through Workers’ Compensation claims. Because employees are not able to recover pain and suffering or punitive damages, the overall value of a Workers’ Compensation claim is usually less than the value of a successful personal injury lawsuit based on the same injury.
In Georgia, O.C.G.A. 34-9-11 states that the rights and remedies provided to workers under the Workers’ Compensation Act are the only ones employees have against their employers. This is called the Exclusive Remedy Provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act. That means workers can’t bring lawsuits against their employers; they can only bring Workers’ Compensation claims instead. By extension, when an employee is injured through the carelessness of a coworker, he or she can only make a Workers’ Compensation claim against their employer.
What happens when someone is injured on the job, but the injury was caused by someone other than the employer or a co-worker? Examples of these situations include: where a piece of the employer’s industrial equipment malfunctions, a crane the employer rented collapses, a piece of the employer’s vehicle breaks, or a driver hits a worker in a construction zone. In each of these situations, the employee (or his or her family, in the event the employee died) may bring a Workers’ Compensation claim against the employer, even though the injury was caused by someone other than the employer or a coworker.
But the employee should also pursue a second legal action against the person or company that was responsible for the injury. O.C.G.A. 34-9-11 also states that employees still have the right to sue third-party actors (i.e. not the employer) whose negligence caused their injuries.
Why would you make a Workers’ Compensation claim if you feel someone other than your employer is at fault? There are two major reasons. First, injured people need medical treatment, and the Workers’ Compensation system is quicker than the personal injury litigation system (i.e. lawsuits) in getting people medical treatment. The entire system is designed with an eye toward getting people healthy and back to work. Second, while you’re out of work due to your injuries, you aren’t receiving paychecks. Workers’ Compensation will pay you two-thirds of your average weekly wage, but only up to $575.00 per week. That money will help you pay your bills while you’re getting healthy so you can get back to work. The personal injury system will also pay for your lost wages, but it will likely take much longer, leaving you without money to pay your bills while you wait for a settlement or trial verdict.
If Workers’ Compensation will help you pay your bills and get you medical treatment, why would you bother filing a lawsuit against the person or company that caused your injury? The short answer is that you may recover much more money through the personal injury system. You can get paid for the pain and suffering you’ve gone through via the personal injury system. Similarly, unlike in the Workers’ Compensation system, a personal injury action can get you paid for your mental anguish and loss of enjoyment of life. Also, there is no cap on the amount you can recover for lost wages in the personal injury system. All personal injury cases are analyzed by insurance companies by the amount of risk they create for the insurance company. For an insurance company, risk means how much money they may have to pay if they go to trial. Insurance companies know that it’s very difficult to predict how much money a jury will give an injured person for things like pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.
When compared to a Workers’ Compensation claim, not only does a personal injury lawsuit provide different ways to recover, but those extra ways can be quite valuable. However, the Workers’ Compensation system provides injured employees an important service when used in tandem with the personal injury system: it helps people get quick treatment and money to pay their bills while their personal injury case is still developing.
Rafi Law Firm’s attorneys have experience helping people who have been injured on the job due to the negligence of companies and people other than their coworkers and their employers. Contact us by clicking here or calling 404-800-9933 if you need help with a situation like this one.