Distinction between Personal Injury and Workers’ Compensation Claim

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Personal injury law book on a table.

The terms “personal injury claims” and “worker’s compensation claims” are often confused and even used interchangeably in some cases, although they have different meanings. A personal injury claim is a generic term for injuries resulting from all types of accidents while workers’ compensation specifically addresses work-related injuries.

The other distinctions include fault requirements and recoverable damages. On the other hand, the pre-requisites for sustaining a claim in both scenarios are losses– physical injury or property damage. Most people contact an employment attorney in California for legal counsel on the available options for their cases. 

Legal Distinctions

  1. Negligence or Fault as a Pre-requisite 

Personal Injury Claims

Supposing you got injured after a slip-and-fall at a friend’s house, who would you sue considering you must prove negligence in personal injury? It doesn’t mean that your friend was negligent just because you slid and fell, injuring yourself in their premise–fault-free accidents exist.

Personal injury claims are based on the negligence of another party and you or your legal team must prove the negligence of the accused person.  For instance, you could say that your friend failed to maintain the floor of their property, exposing you to injuries. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant did not exercise standard care and that your injuries resulted from the negligent acts or omissions of the accused person.

Workers’ Compensation 

An employee who’s injured while performing the employment duties can recover damages in workers’ compensation claims although there are some exceptions. Negligence or fault is not a prerequisite in workers’ compensation claims. 

The only condition is that the injuries must be work-related to qualify for worker’s compensation. Whether you or another party is to blame for your accident or injuries, you’re still entitled to compensation. 

  1. Awards for Pain and Suffering

The other major distinction between personal injury claims and workers’ compensation claims is that you can recover damages for pain and suffering in other personal injury claims excluding workers’ compensation claims–remember worker’s compensation also falls under personal injury. 

In the other personal injury claims besides worker’s compensation, you can recover both economic and non-economic damages, including: 

  • Lost wages and lost earning capacity;
  • Medical expenses– future and current;
  • Disability or permanent impairment;
  • Pain and suffering; and
  • Hedonic damages.

On the other hand, the recoverable awards in workers’ compensation claims are limited to:

  • Weekly compensation;
  • Permanent impairment or disability benefits;
  • Compensation for medical bills; and
  •  Compensation for medical rehabilitation. 

An injured employee can not recover damages for pain and suffering in workers’ compensation lawsuits. Why? Because workers’ compensation is a trade-off between labor and employers. Injured workers only had the option of bringing a case against their employers before the workers’ compensation law was introduced at the dawn of the 20th Century. However, employees were required to prove the negligence of their employees to sustain a work-related injury claim. Also, an injured worker got nothing if they failed to file legal action.

  1. Liability

Workers’ compensation ensures that the financial needs of an employee who is injured at work are catered to. However, the benefit comes with strings attached, where an injured forfeits the right to bring a claim against their employers or colleagues for negligent commissions or omissions that resulted in injuries. Additionally, the victim loses the right to be compensated for pain and suffering.

Exceptions to this rule exist, however. For example, if an employer’s intentional act caused your injury, you can usually still file a lawsuit and collect pain and suffering damages.

Who can Sue their Employers for Work-related Injuries?

All workers in the U.S are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits in the event of a work-related accident–meaning they can’t sue their employers for injuries. However, this rule exempts workers of two industries– crewmembers of vessels and interstate railroad workers.

The two afore-mentioned 2 types of workers do not receive workers’ compensation benefits according to the provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Law. Instead, the Jones Act allows them to bring claims against their employers for job-related injuries and their awards can include damages for pain and suffering. 

It’s important to consult a legal expert in Jones Act claims when filing legal action against your employer. A general attorney might not be an ideal option although their advice can’t be overlooked. The rights to compensation for work-related injuries to interstate railroad workers are protected by the Federal Employers Liability Act. The provisions of this Act allow Interstate railroad workers to bring claims against their employers for work-related injuries. The services of interstate railroad workers are not limited to one state–they work beyond boundaries, and they’re different from Commuter rail workers.

Workers’ compensation claims are litigated under personal injury law. However, the features of workers’ compensation claims differ from the other types of personal injury claims as we’ve discussed in this article.