Most workers in Minnesota know that suffering a workplace injury entitles them to workers' compensation through their employer's insurance coverage. But many may not know that for some injuries, workers' comp may not be the only way to recover full and fair compensation for the injuries.
In general, collecting workers compensation means the employer is not liable for further damages (except under very specific circumstances). However, the injured worker may have the option to sue other "third parties" who are found to be liable for causing he accident.
This blog post will cover a brief overview of third-party lawsuits for injured workers in Minnesota. If you feel this applies to you or a loved one, please review each situation provided because as an injured employee, you may want to seek legal advice for your personal injury.
Workers' Compensation is designed to provide you with money and other benefits if you are injured on the job. It generally provides the injured worker with temporary and permanent disability payments, usually only 2/3 of the employee's average weekly earnings. It will also provide medical coverage, but this often has limitations that may not meet the extent of the injured worker's medical needs.
Workers' compensation does not pay compensation for the employee's pain and suffering, nor intangible damages related to loss of enjoyment of life or damaged companionship with spouse and children, etc.
Defective product injury
Defective products such as old or poorly maintained equipment or machinery can cause serious injuries. Equipment can be faulty and fail to work properly, or can just be hazardous to operate without proper warning lables or instructions.
In these cases, the manufacturer can be held responsible if the company was aware of the dangers and/or did not provide proper warning to the business and the employees using the equipment. While receiving workers' compensation benefits, the injured worker has the right to pursue additional compensation from the manufacturer, installer or other third party responsible for the safe design, manufacture, installation or maintenance of the product. Such a lawsuit not only covers real financial damages, but will typically include compensation for pain and suffering related to the injuries, as well.
Toxic substance injury
Some employees work with chemicals and other toxic substances, which can result in immediate injury or lead to illness due to long-term exposure. Toxic substances include products such as benzene, chromium compounds, asbestos, silica or radium, to name a few.
There are two types of toxic substance injuries: acute injuries that show signs immediately and latent injuries that can take years before they appear, such as cancer or lung disease.
As you might imagine, latent injuries can be more difficult to prove the cause, but lawsuits related to mesothelioma and other types of cancers and respiratory illnesses are more and more successful every year. When an employee has an acute or latent injury from toxic substances, the lawsuit is often against the manufacturer of the substance and the manufacturers of the ineffective safety equipment.
Employer caused injury
Sometimes, employers may have their employees intentionally do something that causes the employee to be injured. Or in some cases, an employer's outrageous behavior may lead them to personally harm the employee, such as a physical fight at work. In other situations, the employer may not follow regulations for operating machinery, handling toxic substances, providing proper safety equipment, or may give misinformation to employees. In Minnesota, in cases of grievous negligence or criminal misconduct or negligence, an injured worker can file a personal injury lawsuit against the employer, outside of a workers' compensation claim. But it must be noted that the circumstances must point to grievous or criminal intent.
No workers' compensation insurance
If your employer does not carry a workers' compensation insurance policy or it was lapsed at the time of your injury, you do have an option for payment. You can sue the employer in civil court to recover what you would have received from a workers' compensation claim. A civil case may provide you with more money than a workers' compensation claim, but the burden of proof will fall on you. Meaning, you will be responsible for showing that the employer was at fault for your injury. Also, in some states like California, there is a fund to provide benefits for workplace injuries when the employer does not have coverage.
Not all work-related injuries are necessarily workers' compensation claims
Some work-related injuries are the result of negligence or misconduct of another person, rather than faulty equipment or dangerous materials. For example, an employee is running a company errand and is assaulted by an individual, the worker may need to sue he individual or property owner where the assault occurred, rather than file for workers' compensation.
If you believe your Minnesota work-related injuries fall into any set of circumstances in addition to or outside of workers' compensation, seek an attorney experienced in personal injury cases, as well as workers' compensation. The attorney can review your case and let you know the best course of action. Outside of being properly compensated for your injury, a lawsuit can also help all the employees have a safer work environment.