It’s a common question. “Can I sue my employer, it’s their fault I got hurt at work?” The question usually comes with a story about an employer breaking safety rules, a coworker doing something wrong or unreasonable work expectations. The worker is hurt, out of work, and frankly, angry. Their boss shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this, should they?
Although it is not the answer most people want, as a general rule, you can not sue your employer for your work related injury. (There is a narrow exception for intentional injuries which we’ll talk about another time) Here comes the history lesson. In 1911 Washington State employers and labor entered into a great compromise. They weren’t exactly reinventing the wheel, workers compensation laws were being passed across the country. It had become painfully clear the Common Law system for resolving lawsuits was not effective for work related injuries. Workers waited too long for financial and medical assistance, the cost to the employer was unpredictable, and the loss to the State’s economy was growing. The preamble to our Industrial Insurance Act is really sort of inspiring, if you’re in the mood to be inspired. RCW 51.04.010 In a nutshell, workers are valuable, and the State should protect them. So, the great compromise.
There would be an administrative system to provide sure and speedy benefits to injured workers. The worker does not have to prove negligence. In other words, it is a no fault system, it does not matter why the injury happened. In exchange for these sure and speedy benefits and a no fault system, the injured worker gives up the right to sue the employer. The damages which the worker can recover are limited to those specific benefits found in the statute.
So, think of the typical auto accident case. If someone is hurt, they go to the doctor, and pay the medical bills. If they miss work, they lose the pay. There is a civil suit filed. Each side points at the other as being the one at fault. It can take years to resolve. When all is said and done the injured party can recover the costs of medical care, lost wages, pain and suffering and other damages proven to the court, but only if they can show fault or negligence .
In workers compensation we aren’t concerned with fault. we want to make sure you get appropriate medical care, and time loss to replace any lost wages as soon as possible. No delay, no long lawsuits. So, “No” you can’t sue your employer. But, you can and should file a workers compensation claim if you are injured at work, that’s how you protect yourself.
Note: for another day. What if someone besides my employer causes my work injury?