The Difference Between a Personal Injury Lawyer and a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer

Workers’ compensation and personal injury claims have many similarities.  They both involve injuries to a person or group of people and both have legal remedies to obtain compensation for the injured party.  The main differences between personal injury and workers’ compensation are the determination of fault and type of damages available. 

What is a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

A personal injury lawsuit occurs after a person is injured due to the act or omission of another person. Claims which arise after a vehicle accident or slip and fall are typical personal injury cases.  

To prevail in a personal injury case, the injured person must prove that the person who caused the accident acted in a negligent, reckless, or intentional manner.  Negligence occurs when someone does not act reasonably or responsibly.  A driver must follow traffic laws and keep their vehicle in a safe and operable condition.  If a driver fails to maintain those responsibilities and causes injuries to another person, they are responsible for compensating the injured party in a personal injury suit. 

In personal injury cases, a claimant’s damages can be reduced if they contributed to their injuries.  In the case of a car accident, if the injured party failed to use a turn signal or did not properly maintain his vehicle and this contributed to the severity or cause of the accident, the amount of compensation he is entitled to may be reduced as a result of the driver’s own negligence.

Personal Injury claims

Who Compensates the Injured Party in a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

Compensation for the injured party is provided by the person who is found to be at fault.  This could be an individual or a business, and in some cases, it can be the manufacturer of a product (if the malfunction of the product caused all or a portion of the injuries). The compensation may be collected from the at-fault person’s insurance or personal assets. In some cases, the injured person’s own insurance policy may be used to obtain compensation through coverages for uninsured or underinsured motorists.

What is a Workers’ Compensation Lawsuit?

Employees who are injured while working for their employer may receive compensation for their injuries through a workers’ compensation claim.  Unlike personal injury claims, workers’ compensation claims do not require a finding of fault.  It does not matter whether the employee was negligent and his negligence caused his injuries.  As long as the employee was on the job and performing services for his employer at the time he was injured, he does not need to prove fault.

Who Compensates the Injured Party in a Workers’ Compensation Lawsuit?

Workers’ compensation benefits are paid by the state.  In California, employees injured on the job are eligible to receive two-thirds of their pretax gross wage.  There is a minimum and maximum amount of payment permitted to each employee per week which is adjusted annually.  Individuals, such as management or co-workers are not responsible for injuries in the workplace unless they intentionally injured an employee (in which case the claim would no longer be a workers’ compensation case but could be filed under a different type of law).  

For example, if an employee makes $65,000 per year and they are injured, their weekly pay is calculated at approximately $1,250.00 ($65,000 / 52 weeks).  The amount of pay available from workers’ compensation would be approximately $825.00, which is two-thirds of their weekly pay.  

Some employers offer a “Disability Leave with Pay” program.  The program is not mandatory, but the employers who offer it can compensate employees an additional amount above what is paid by the state.  This program allows the employee who is unable to work while recovering from an injury to receive the full amount of salary they would receive if they were working.

In the above example of an employee who earns a $60,000 annual salary and receives $825.00 through workers’ compensation, an employer who offers Disability Leave with Pay would compensate the employee the remaining $425.00 to make up the total weekly pay of $1,250.00.

California employees may also receive other benefits, such as Supplemental Job Displacement Benefits, which pay for vocational skills trailing and other expenses in addition to medical expenses and wage compensation.

What is the Difference in Compensation for Personal Injury Lawsuits and Workers’ Compensation Claims?

In both personal injury and workers’ compensation claims, the injured party is able to collect damages for economic damages.  Economic damages include measurable expenses, such as medical expenses and lost wages. In workers’ compensation claims, economic damages may also include vocational rehabilitation.  Workers’ compensation claims, however, do not permit injured parties to collect damages for non-economic damages.  Non-economic damages include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and punitive damages against the at-fault party.  Personal injury claims permit the collection of both economic and non-economic damages.  

Can Employees Sue Coworkers and Employers for Negligence or Personal Injury?

Because personal injury suits permit collection of non-economic damages, some employees may hope to sue employers under the theory of personal injury instead of workers’ compensation. However, this option is not available for injuries which occur during the course of employment.  Workers compensation laws are a security for workers to ensure that in the event of injury, they receive some weekly pay and coverage for their injuries.  In exchange for those rights, workers lost the right to sue their employers or coworkers directly. Although these laws result in less compensation for some employees whose injuries were caused by negligence by their employers, it makes the process of receiving compensation more streamlined and secure because there is no requirement to prove that any negligence occurred or to determine who was at fault for the negligence.

There are a couple limited exceptions to the inability for workers to sue their employers for personal injury claims.  Employees working as crewmembers of vessels and interstate railroad workers are exempt from the limitations of workers compensation claims.  For employees working as crewmembers on any type of boat, from small fishing boats to large scale cruise liners, the federal Jones Act provides the basis of recovery if injured while on the job.  For employees of interstate railroad workers who are injured while working, the Federal Employers Liability Act applies.  If you are injured while working as a crewmember of a vessel or an interstate railroad employee, you should contact an attorney who specializes in the Jones Act or the Federal Employers Liability Act for assistance with your claim.  

When You Need an Attorney for Your Case

In some situations, you may be able to file your workers’ compensation claim independently without assistance from an attorney.  However, if your claim is denied, if it is complex, or if your injuries are substantial, such as those which cause a permanent disfigurement or disability, you may need the assistance of an attorney.  Additionally, if your workers’ compensation claim is denied, an attorney can assist you in appealing the decision and receiving compensation.  An attorney may be helpful from the inception of your workers’ compensation claim because they can assist you in meeting the various deadlines for workers’ compensation claims and understand which coverages are available to you.

Personal injury claims are often complex and require assistance of a lawyer to help determine who is at fault, what insurance coverages are available, and what types of damages you may be entitled to. If you are injured outside of work due to another person’s actions or negligence, contact a personal injury attorney to review your claim. 

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