What is workers' compensation?

Workers' compensation is a system that states use to compensate employees of private and government employers when they are injured at work. Each state has its own workers' compensation laws to handle claims from employees who are injured on the job, and these laws are strict liability, which means fault and negligence by the employer are not considered in order for an employee to receive benefits. Instead, whether an employer or an employee was the cause of the employee's injury, the workers' comp system generally compensates the employee for medical costs, lost wages, and other losses.

Punitive damages are not available to an employee for work injuries covered by workers compensation. In addition, the legal defenses available to a defendant in a civil action are not available to the employer in injury claims, either, which among other things means that the employer cannot claim that because the employee caused her own injury the employer should not have to pay. The injury or illness must have occurred in the course of employment in order for the workers' compensation system to provide benefits to the injured worker. Workers' compensation is generally the exclusive remedy for an employee's injuries or illnesses arising out of the course of employment, which means that an employee cannot elect to sue the employer for negligence instead of filing a workers' comp claim.

Workers' comp coverage is typically required by states for every employee, although state law may allow specific exemptions for officers or owners of companies or corporations, small companies five or fewer employees, domestic workers, farm hands, and independent contractors. Independent contractors, for whom workers' comp is not required to be carried by the employer, are not covered because technically independent contractors are independent operators of their own small business.

Workers' compensation hearings, if necessary, are normally administrative proceedings that take place in a separate court system. However, there are some limits to workers' compensation being an "exclusive remedy." For example, in some states under some circumstances, employees may be able to sue a third party for injuries despite the fact that the injuries occurred in the course of their employment. Suing a third party may be possible where there was a third party who was responsible for the injuries, such as a vendor of machinery or defective materials that caused the damages and injuries. However, third party lawsuits carried on simultaneously with workman's comp claims may be complicated or even impossible, and a specific lawyer with this type of experience will be required.

Click here for an informative article on differences between employees and contractors.