According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), accidents are the leading cause of both injury and death for Americans between the ages of 1 and 44. Accidents are by definition unintentional; no one wants them to happen. A lot of people assume that, without intention, accidents can't be blamed on anyone. They just happen, and that's that.
In fact, many accidents have human action, or inaction, at their root. Lawyers call this concept "negligence," and America's long history of "tort" law recognizes the fact that victims deserve compensation when they are harmed by another's actions.
But the story becomes more complicated in the workplace.
Are you familiar with Navigating New York’s Workers Comp System? Find out how here.
Although there are exceptions, it's most likely that you cannot directly sue your employer - even if they were negligent.
Why? It's all about Workers Compensation. From a historical perspective, Workers Comp is an amazing accomplishment. Let's take a quick tour through American history and find out why.
Around 1780, the American Industrial Revolution began in earnest. Factories were built, labor was centralized, and productivity shot through the roof.
But work also became more dangerous; workers were operating huge, new, complicated machines in often squalid conditions. And for the next century, when workers got hurt on the job, they were out of luck. Effective medical care was almost non-existent, so there was little hope of a seriously injured worker recovering in the first place. But if you were extremely lucky and did get better, there was no money to live on until you found a new source of income.
It's only until 1855 that two states, Georgia and Alabama, passed "Employer Liability Acts." These new statutes allowed injured workers to sue their employers, so long as they could prove negligence. Similar acts were soon adopted by 29 other states, until the program's fatal flaw surfaced.
Worker injuries were rampant. And while only a fraction of workplace accidents were actually caused by employer negligence, the courts were clogged with personal injury suits. The new strategy was costing America's state and federal governments a lot of money. But without the payout from a successful lawsuit, injured workers had no way of paying for medical care, or supporting themselves if they were unable to work. There was a serious problem, so labor and management struck a bargain.
Employers agreed to purchase insurance, which would pay for their employees' medical expenses and lost wages. In return, employers were protected from personal injury lawsuits, even when they acted negligently. You could no longer sue your employer. That's still the system we have today; essentially, accidents happen without fault.
As we mentioned above, there are exceptions to Workers Compensation's ban on lawsuits. Here's a short summary:
It's important to note that Workers Comp settlements only cover medical expenses and lost wages. They make no effort to make injured victims fully "whole." Pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment, and other "non-economic" damages have no place in Workers Compensation. But in many cases, these spiritual or psychological damages can be more devastating in the long run than any physical injury.
Were you injured on the job? Contact the personal injury attorneys at Banville Law today for a free consultation. In clear, every-day language, we'll help you understand your situation and your options moving forward. We work on a contingency-fee-basis, so you owe nothing until we secure your compensation. Call (917) 551-6690 or complete our online contact form.
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