Workers who are injured in work accidents in Pennsylvania or New Jersey often want to know what their employers are responsible for. Here are some of the most common questions an injured worker has after a work injury occurs:
Most employers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are responsible only for providing workers’ compensation benefits. Many injured workers ask the question, Can I sue my employer even if I accept workers’ compensation? or Can I sue my employer for negligence? In most cases, the answer is no. There are some key exceptions to this rule which are discussed below.
That’s the trade-off of workers’ compensation, also known as the exclusivity principle. Employers in both PA and NJ who provide workers’ comp benefits cannot be sued by an injured employee, even if an employer’s own negligence caused the work accident. In other words, injured employees are usually not allowed to sue employers for work injuries or accidents.
In addition, injured workers often don’t realize that other, non-employer parties can be held responsible for a work accident. Oftentimes, work accidents occur due to the negligence of a third (outside) party, such as a subcontractor, property owner or product manufacturer. For instance, a forklift accident may occur due to a defective condition of the forklift or component part of the forklift. While the employer cannot be sued, the product manufacturer or retailer can. These types of cases, known as third party liability cases, are discussed below.
Our work injury lawyers have recovered millions for injured workers across Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Combined, our attorneys have over 40 years of experience handling work accidents, construction accidents, forklift accidents and more. Contact the firm’s Philadelphia, PA office for a free consultation. Call us today at (866) 641-0806 to discuss your legal rights.
Under Pennsylvania law, most employers are required to provide workers’ compensation benefits. Any employer with at least 1 employee who could suffer a work injury or work related disease is required to provide workers’ comp benefits. Certain types of employers are exempt, such as federal employers or railroad companies.
Similarly, New Jersey law mandates that all employers in the state provide workers’ comp benefits unless they are not otherwise covered by federal programs.
Workers’ compensation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey works much like auto or home owners’ insurance. That’s because the vast majority of employers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey provide workers’ comp benefits through insurance, i.e., an employer buys a workers’ comp insurance policy from an insurance company authorized to provide workers’ comp insurance in the state. In Pennsylvania, many employers purchase workers’ comp coverage through the State Workers’ Insurance Fund.
In some instances, an employer may be self-insured. This means the employer may administer and provide workers’ comp benefits on its own or through a third party administrator.
Pennsylvania and New Jersey laws impose penalties on an employer who fails to provide workers’ compensation coverage to employees. In New Jersey, corporate officers, partners and members can be personally liable to an injured employee where the company or business fails to provide workers’ comp coverage. In addition, there are both criminal and civil penalties including fines. More importantly, when an employer fails to provide workers’ comp, an injured employee has the right to bring a lawsuit against the employer for the work injury.
It is illegal for an employer in Pennsylvania or New Jersey to discriminate or retaliate against an employee for filing or trying to file a workers’ compensation claim. Pennsylvania and New Jersey courts recognize an injured worker’s right to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against an employer in these instances. Learn more about retaliation after making a workers’ comp claim.
Under Pennsylvania and New Jersey law, workers’ compensation benefits are payable regardless of who caused the accident. If you were injured while at work, either in the performance of your work duties or otherwise lawfully at the workplace (i.e., work accident while on break in the lunch room), your employer is required to provide workers’ comp benefits, regardless of fault. It doesn’t matter whether you, a co-worker or your employer was negligent in causing the accident.
In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, workers’ compensation benefits cover reasonably necessary medical bills, temporary/permanent disability, amputation or loss of the use a body part, and death benefits in the event of a fatal work accident.
Workers’ compensation benefits do not pay for pain and suffering. The workers’ comp system simply wasn’t designed to compensate workers for pain and suffering caused by a work accident. However, injured workers may be able to receive compensation for pain and suffering by filing a work accident lawsuit against a non-employer third party.
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Proving fault is not necessary when it comes to getting workers’ compensation benefits. As discussed above, the workers’ compensation system in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey is a no-fault one. This means that an injured worker gets to make a claim for workers’ compensation benefits without regard to fault, whether it’s the employer’s fault or the employee’s fault. Accordingly, an injured worker can still make a workers’ comp claim for a work accident that was caused by the employer’s negligence, i.e., through the negligence of a manager or other party in charge. For example, a worker who falls off a roof due to the employer’s failure to use guardrails required by OSHA can still make a workers’ comp claim, even though the accident was caused by the employer’s negligence.
In other words, is the employer legally responsible for a work accident? The answer depends on the type of legal claim being made. With respect to workers’ compensation benefits, the employer cannot be sued for causing the accident and injuries. The injured worker does, however, retain rights to file workers’ compensation related claims, such as a claim for benefits. In some instances, legal action is necessary to force an employer to pay workers’ comp benefits that are due under the law.
Injured workers may also be able to file civil work injury lawsuits against employers in certain situations. Under the laws of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, employers can be held directly liable for a work accident under certain circumstances. These are referred to as exceptions to the general rule of no liability, i.e., exceptions to workers’ compensation exclusivity:
These exceptions are very fact intensive. Also, these theories of liability may be difficult to prove and sustain from a legal standpoint without the help of an experienced work injury lawyer. Pennsylvania and New Jersey courts recognize different exceptions. However, in many work injury cases against employers, the parties are arguing over the intentional conduct exception. In order to prove this exception, the injured worker must be able to show that the employer engaged in a pattern of particularly egregious conduct, like fraud, misrepresentation or misleading federal/state investigators.
Simply ignoring safety regulations is usually not enough to make the case for intentional conduct, thus allowing an injured worker to sue an employer for a work accident. Let’s use the example above, where the worker falls from the roof due to the employer’s failure to comply with OSHA guardrail regulations. Evidence shows that the employer had previously been cited for the same violation. However, without additional evidence, such as falsifying prior records or lying to OSHA investigators, the employer would probably not be liable.
Other parties are often liable for a work accident. This is probably one of the most widely misunderstood aspects of work injury lawsuits in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The workers’ compensation laws are designed to protect direct employers from lawsuits for work injuries. However, those laws only apply to employers. They do not apply to other parties on a work site or construction site.
The reality is that in many work accident cases, other parties can be held liable, including:
In some instances, when a piece of equipment, machine or tool is involved in the accident, the injured worker may have a valid product injury claim against the product manufacturer, product distributor and/or product retailer. These types of claims can be made in cases involving a wide variety of products used in the workplace, such as forklifts or power tools and nail guns.
The critical issue in cases involving product injuries in the workplace is analyzing the product itself. In order to prevail in a defective product lawsuit, the injured party must prove that the product was in fact defective. This requires having the product tested by an expert such as a mechanical engineer. Therefore, it is important to preserve the product, in its original state at the time of the accident.
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