If you receive on-the-job injuries, you may wonder if you can sue your employer. Under North Carolina law, if your employer has workers’ compensation insurance that covers your injuries, the general rule is that you cannot sue your employer. There are exceptions, though. There also are situations where you may be able to file a legal claim against a third party.
State law in North Carolina requires most employers with three or more employees to carry workers’ compensation coverage. If an employer has the insurance, it pays compensation for on-the-job injuries, even if they are caused by the employer’s or a co-worker’s negligence.
If an employer does not have workers’ compensation coverage, the employee may have a civil claim against the employer under personal injury law. However, when workers’ compensation covers an injury, the law prohibits the injured employee from also filing a civil action against the employer or another employee in most circumstances. There are a few exceptions, which involve conduct that amounts to more than negligence or carelessness in the workplace.
A worker may sue an employer for injuries caused by intentional acts of the employer. So, if the employer purposely causes harm to a worker, the employee can file a civil action, even if the employer has workers’ compensation insurance.
A second exemption arises if the employer engages in intentional conduct that is “substantially certain” to cause serious injury or death to workers. This type of claim is sometimes referred to as a Woodson claim, since it was recognized in a 1991 North Carolina Supreme Court decision in the case of Woodson v. Rowland. These claims involve extremely egregious conduct and are very difficult to win.
Workers’ compensation laws also prohibit lawsuits against co-workers for injuries resulting from the co-worker’s negligence. But if a co-worker intentionally injures another employee, the injured victim can sue the co-worker if the conduct is willful, wanton, or reckless.
Claims against employers and employees for intentional conduct may include situations involving things like assault, rape, invasion of privacy, or slander. In any situation where you may have a basis for suing your employer — whether or not workers’ compensation is involved — you should discuss your case with an experienced personal injury attorney. It is never a good idea to pursue a personal injury claim on your own.
Even though you cannot file a lawsuit if your employer has workers’ compensation insurance, you can appeal workers’ compensation decisions if you encounter issues with your benefits. If you face that situation, you should talk with an attorney who handles workers’ compensation matters. Additional information is available in our blog post, When Should You Talk With a Lawyer About Your North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Benefits?
Although you usually cannot sue your employer for work injuries, there are situations in which you may be able to sue a third party, even if you’re covered by workers’ compensation. This type of claim is a personal injury action. It is separate from your workers’ compensation claim.
If someone other than your employer or a co-worker caused your injuries, you may be able to file a third-party liability claim against that person or business, in addition to receiving workers’ comp benefits. Third-party claims are not governed by workers’ compensation laws, but by the personal injury rules that apply to injuries caused by negligence. Compensation for personal injuries is calculated differently from workers’ compensation, so your personal injury compensation is likely to be greater than what you receive under workers’ compensation benefits.
When a third party is liable for your work injuries, compensation from the personal injury claim is in addition to your workers’ compensation. However, if the third-party claim succeeds, you may be required to reimburse some of the workers’ compensation benefits you received.
Third-party liability for work injuries is more common than you might think. Here are some examples of situations in which it occurs.
Transportation incidents are the most common type of third-party liability claim. If you receive an injury in a truck or car accident while you are on-the-job, you may have a personal injury claim against the driver who caused the accident.
If your injuries were caused by faulty or defective equipment, you may have a product liability claim against the manufacturer, distributor, or supplier of the equipment.
If your work injuries occur on property that belongs to someone else, that person or business may be responsible under premises liability rules.
If your injuries are caused by someone on your jobsite who is not a co-worker or your employer (like a subcontractor) that person may have third-party liability for your injuries.
Our civil litigation attorneys at The Twiford Law Firm have the experience and knowledge to help third-party claims arising from on-the-job injuries as well as workers’ compensation claim issues. With offices in Elizabeth City and Moyock, we serve clients throughout northeastern North Carolina. Call us at 252-338-4151 (Elizabeth City) or 252-435-2811 (Moyock) or complete our online form to schedule an initial consultation.