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Can I Sue My Employer?

One of the most common questions I've encountered over the years in practicing Workers' Compensation is, can I sue my employer?

Well, chances are if you got hurt at work in New York and you have a valid claim for New York Workers' Compensation benefits, you probably cannot also sue your employer in a lawsuit in a Court of Law for your injuries. The New York Workers' Compensation Law was specifically developed to remove most workplace injuries from the Courts of Law to avoid delay, overly complicated rules of evidence, and to provide expeditious outcomes and payment of benefits to injured workers. Thus, in New York, like many other states, the venue that governs benefits for injured workers is an administrative body called "The Workers' Compensation Board."

Many injured workers become dismayed and angry that they cannot sue their employers for damages that result from sometimes crippling, painful and life-altering injuries. Their frustration is well-placed. In New York, Workers' Compensation benefits are often far less compensating than damages that would be available in a Court of Law. There is no award for pain and suffering in Workers' Compensation. Only partial wages are paid in Workers' Compensation claims. The worker cannot claim or recover one hundred percent of all out-of-pocket expenses in a Workers' Compensation claim (although reimbursement for medical and travel expenses is permitted). These are important items that another individual who was injured outside of work could seek in a Court of Law just by the happenstance of not being hurt at work.

However, there are situations where an employer may be sued for workplace injuries. If the employer intentionally injures the worker, i.e. such as an assault or intentional act of violence, the worker may sue. Furthermore, if the employer failed to secure Workers' Compensation insurance as required by statute, the worker may elect to recover damages in a Court of Law in lieu of receiving Workers' Compensation benefits.

There are also common circumstances where a worker is injured while working as a result of the negligence of someone or something who is not an employee of the workplace. We call this scenario a "third party claim." The third party could be the individual who struck you with their automobile, the owner of the premises where you slipped and fell, the general contractor on the jobsite where your construction injury occurred, or the manufacturer of the machine that was defectively designed causing your injury at the factory. In these situations, the injured worker can seek both Workers' Compensation benefits administratively and sue the third party in a Court of Law. Caveat worker - there are strict legal requirements for settlement and/or closure of a third party claim when the injury arose out of and in the course of employment. The consent of the employer or its carrier must be obtained before the third party claim may be closed (or in the alternative, a Court Order permitting closure of the claim). Furthermore, the employer has a right to assert a "lien" for partial recoupment of Workers' Compensation benefits from the third party settlement, as well as a right to "take credit" for the third party recovery resulting in a vast reduction or sometimes cessation of Workers' Compensation benefits. Sometimes settlement of a third party claim can foster a favorable settlement of the Workers' Compensation simultaneously, resulting in a "global resolution" of all claims stemming from the injury.

The interplay between a Workers' Compensation claim and a third party claim can be tricky and downright daunting, even to experienced practitioners. It is essential to have experienced counsel who is well-versed in both areas of law to make sure the rights of the worker and employer are protected.

This blog, as with all blogs on this site, is not intended to nor should it be construed as legal advice. We are here to stir up conversation and interest in topics that affect parties to Workers' Compensation claims in New York State. Not sure what your rights are? Give us a call now - the consultation is always free!

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