Can I Sue my Employer for my Workers' Compensation Injury?
Generally speaking, you are not permitted to sue your employer for an accident at work. When an employer provides workers’ compensation insurance, it is shielded from defending personal injury claims brought by its employees. The workers' compensation system was established as a trade-off in which injured employees give up their right to sue employers in court in exchange for the right to receive medical care and lost wages, regardless of who was at fault for their injuries. In other words, it is a no fault system. There are some important exceptions.
If you were injured at work and you believe your employer intentionally caused you this harm, you can bring a suit for an intentional tort in civil court. Tort injuries include not only physical harms, but also non-physical injuries such as pain and suffering. Common intentional torts include battery, false imprisonment, defamation or sexual harassment among other intentional injuries.
If you were harmed at work and you believe someone other than you or your employer was responsible, i.e. a third party, you have the option to sue that party. For example, if you believe your injury was caused by defective equipment, you can file a product’s liability suit against the equipment's manufacturer. However, if you are awarded damages you may have to pay a portion of the recovery back to your employer or your employer's insurance company, to repay the workers' compensation benefits that you received. Alternatively, your employer and its insurer may be allowed to sue on your behalf to recover the value of the paid workers' compensation benefits for themselves.
In Florida, workers' compensation claims are pursued through an administrative court system. You cannot proceed to the workers’ compensation judge (a non-jury system), until you have first filed a petition for benefits and had the issues in the petition mediated by a neutral third party. Most cases are resolved before a workers’ compensation trial, but you should be prepared to go to court if you are unable to reach a suitable resolution beforehand. It's not always clear whether you have a workers' compensation claim or a civil case against your employer, and making that determination often requires the expertise of a trained attorney. If you need help figuring out your next steps, consider having an experienced workers’ compensation attorney review your claim today free of charge.