WORKERS’ COMPENSATION AND INDUSTRIAL ACCIDENTS
Many types of injuries, including burn injuries and traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, are the result of industrial accidents at the workplace. California’s Workers’ Compensation Act provides the following benefits to workers who have been injured on the job:
- Payment of medical expenses
- Disability payments
- Vocational rehabilitation payments
- If the employee’s injuries are fatal, payment of death benefits and reasonable burial expenses
Under California law, employers are responsible for an employee’s injuries occurring on the job without regard to the employee’s carelessness or fault. However, California law also provides that employees receiving Workers’ Compensation benefits cannot recover from the employer in any legal action other than Workers’ Compensation (subject to the exceptions mentioned below). Cal Lab Code § 3601.
However, California Workers Compensation laws do allow an employee to sue an employer for intentional acts that injure the employee and for injuries caused by hazardous conditions known to the employer to be dangerous to the employee. For example, one employer knew that its employees were continually being exposed to asbestos and never warned the employees that they were risking injuries, disease and death. The employer also did nothing to remove the asbestos or remove the employees from the hazardous area. Such willful misconduct is not shielded by California Workers’ Compensation laws, and such employers can be sued directly by their injured employees.
Workers Compensation laws only preclude lawsuits against employers. Suits against third parties are not precluded. If a party other than the employer is responsible or partially responsible for an employee’s injuries, the employee may be entitled to recover from those other parties. This is referred to as a “third party claim.” Unlike a Workers’ Compensation claim, where the employee is entitled to recover only part of their losses, in a third party claim the employee may potentially recover the full range of damages available in a tort claim, including compensation for disfigurement, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and emotional distress.