The workers’ compensation system is a departure from the standard legal process. If no workers’ compensation laws existed, an injured worker would have the option of suing an employer for negligence, which is the legal theory followed in most personal injury lawsuits. If the worker prevailed, the employer would have to compensate the worker for medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other damages. But if the worker could not prove that the employer was somehow liable, he or she would not receive any compensation.
Workers’ compensation laws represent a tradeoff for both workers and employers. Workers’ compensation systems vary by state, but generally speaking, under a workers’ compensation system every worker is guaranteed compensation for an on-the-job injury. Employers pay into a workers' compensation insurance fund, and injured employees receive compensation from that fund. It's a no-fault system, meaning that the injured worker doesn't need to prove that the employer (or anyone else) is legally to blame for causing the worker's injuries.
So, which construction injuries are covered by workers’ compensation? What do workers’ compensation claims look like, and what happens when workers’ compensation laws don’t apply? Read on to learn more.
The answer is, “pretty much all of them.” In most states, a worker can receive workers’ compensation for any work-related injury. Usually, even an injury that is completely the fault of the worker will be covered by workers’ compensation rules.
The difficult question is not usually whether the employee can obtain workers’ compensation, but whether the employee can obtain more than workers’ compensation.
Most workers’ compensation systems preclude a lawsuit brought by an injured worker against his or her direct employer. But in some cases, an injured worker may be able to file a legal claim against third parties who are responsible for causing or contributing to an on-the-job injury. For example, if a construction worker injury was caused by a defect in safety equipment, the injured worker may be able to file a product liability lawsuit against the equipment manufacturer.
If you are injured on the job and make a successful workers' compensation claim, your hospital bills and other medical expenses will be covered, including costs of treatment and diagnosis. You may also be able to receive disability benefits if your injury impacts your ability to work for a significant time period. And if you need physical therapy and other forms of rehabilitation, that will ordinarily be covered by workers comp too.
As we illustrated above, a worker may be able to sue a party other than the worker’s direct employer for an injury. As an example, imagine James works for a roofing company. While James is working on a roof renovation project, a faulty safety harness breaks and causes James to fall from the roof. He suffers serious injuries.
James could file a workers’ compensation claim as a remedy for his injuries, any disability, and any rehabilitation. But James can also probably sue the manufacturer of the safety harness if he can show that the harness is defective and does not meet reasonable expectations when it comes to providing protection to people who use it. Workers’ compensation rules would not apply to this lawsuit against a third party (the harness manufacturer) who may have caused or contributed to James' injuries. So, this lawsuit would not be subject to the same procedure -- or to any of the restrictions -- inherent in a workers' comp claim, and James could recover any damages that are available in a standard court-based personal injury claim.