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Court restricts recoveries to workers’ compensation

On behalf of Jeffrey Frederick of Frederick & Hagle posted in Workers’ Compensation on Friday, June 14, 2013.

Can an injured worker sue the employer on a tort action to recover additional damages where the employer’s intentional actions allegedly caused the victim’s injuries? According to one court outside of Illinois, the answer is no, because any workplace accident is limited and restricted to workers’ compensation. The decision is relevant in Illinois, where it illustrates the general idea that a worker cannot sue his employer but is relegated to workers’ compensation benefits for a workplace injury or death.

In the reported case, the estate and family of an 18-year-old man who was buried and died in a grain elevator tried to sue the employer for full tort damages. They claimed that the employer’s actions were egregiously wanton and reckless, for ordering him to go in while engines were running and without a rescue policy in place. That should create an exception to the usual rule restricting the recovery to workers’ compensation only, the family argued.

But the Supreme Court of Nebraska denied the family’s appeal, while reiterating the traditional rule that workers’ compensation benefits are the exclusive remedy for a workplace accident. In a general negligence action, recovery may be obtained for pain and suffering and permanent disability, two things not included in workers’ compensation. In return for giving up the right to sue the employer, however, the worker can collect workers’ compensation benefits without respect to fault. Even if the worker contributed to the cause of the accident, workers’ compensation benefits must be paid.

Workers’ compensation pays a percentage of lost wages, all medical expenses and miscellaneous out-of-pocket costs. Because in some cases the payments can continue indefinitely, there are compromise settlements that may be obtained where the worker settles the claim for a substantial lump-sum amount. Also, in some instances if a worker loses a limb or a finger or other body part, a specified amount will also be recoverable.

Importantly, the above decision might not be followed in Illinois. A number of states have carved out exceptions where the employer’s actions were intentional or bordering on it. If the issue arises, your best option would be to consult with a workers’ compensation practitioner to get an accurate idea of your rights and options.

Source: yankto.net, “Family of Neb. man killed in workplace can’t sue,” May 31, 2013

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