What Case Do I Have?
When you suffer an injury, there are several different ways to get relief for your damages. Under the law, physical injuries usually fall under two areas of practice, personal injury law and worker’s compensation claims. These two areas are often very similar and can frequently overlap, so it’s important to know what sort of claim you are filing and the general principles that govern these claims.
What is Personal Injury?
Personal injury is a field of law related to plaintiffs who have sustained some sort of injury, that injury was the fault of another party, and the other party has to pay to relieve the injured party. These injuries can be myriad and can cover physical, economic, emotional, and psychological damages.
In personal injury, you try to demonstrate that the other party was at fault for your injuries, either through intentional actions, negligence, or reckless behavior. The court determines how much liability for the injury to assign to each party, and how much each party has to chip in to relieve the damages you suffered.
In California, if the court finds that you were 100% at fault for your injuries, or that no one was at fault, you will typically not recover anything. If you were determined to have some fault in your injury, the court will decide how much of your damages you are responsible for and cut that from the relief you would otherwise obtain. This is known as comparative negligence.
What is Worker’s Compensation?
Worker’s compensation is very similar to personal injury but occurs during a person’s employment or as a result of their employment. The employer remedies this injury, or more likely, the employer’s worker’s compensation insurance. In fact, if your employer does not have worker’s compensation insurance, you can often state a strong personal injury claim against your employer.
For a worker’s compensation claim to be made, an employee must suffer an injury during or because of their work duties. The injury does not necessarily have to occur while you are on the clock. Likewise, an injury occurring while you are on the clock still has to be related to your work duties. This means that most traumatic physical injuries occurring on the clock are likely to fall under worker’s compensation cases.
The court will examine non-traumatic medical conditions to determine whether or not they were caused or aggravated by your work duties. For example, a heart attack in a job with heavy physical labor that puts strain on your body will likely be covered by worker’s compensation. So would a deep vein thrombosis in a job that involves being seated and stationary for a long time. However, brain cancer is unlikely to be covered, even if you have symptoms while at work unless you can tie the medical condition to conditions of your employment.
What is the Difference Between the Two?
Both PI and worker’s compensation claims involve being compensated for economic and medical damages associated with your injury. However, PI allows claims of ‘General Damages’, damages that are associated with pain, grief, distress, emotional injury, and so on. While PI and worker’s compensation overlap a lot, only PI claims allow for the recovery of general damages.
Furthermore, in most personal injury claims, you must demonstrate a degree of intent. Either the person responsible for your injuries was intentional, negligent, or reckless. In worker’s compensation, intent rarely plays a part at all. You usually only have to demonstrate that you were injured during or because of your work duties, and need not allege negligence or recklessness on the part of your employer.
Does Personal Injury and Worker’s Compensation Ever Overlap?
Actually, yes, there can be situations in which you may have claims simultaneously under worker’s compensation and personal injury. Let’s give an example.
Imagine you are a hazardous materials driver and while transporting materials you are struck by a car that veered into your lane. You can have a claim for worker’s compensation as you were injured in the scope of your work duties. You can also have a personal injury claim against the driver of the vehicle that struck you, as that injury was the result of a party unconnected with your work. You can typically assert a PI claim against anything that caused your injury that wasn’t directly related to your employment, such as defective products or equipment from external companies.
You could also have PI claims if the injury resulted in the atmosphere of the workplace but included activity not regularly involved in your duties. An example could be inappropriate or illegal acts of your employer, such as workplace harassment, which could be subject to both worker’s compensation and PI claims.
How We Can Help
Our firm has decades of experience working on personal injury cases, and we know where the two can overlap. If you’ve been injured at work, worker’s compensation may not cover the full extent of your damages. While we don’t handle worker’s compensation cases, we can help you find the overlap between your workplace damages and a PI claim. It costs nothing to find out, so schedule a free consultation today.