In Pennsylvania, injured workers can’t sue their employer for damages following a work-related injury. All employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance, so when a worker collects these benefits, the employer is exempt from a civil lawsuit.
Employers who fail to carry workers’ comp insurance could face criminal prosecution by the state, which could result in fines and/or jail time.
Why Can’t I Sue My Employer in Pennsylvania?
The Pennsylvania Legislature enacted the Pennsylvania Workman’s Compensation Act in 1915. This important safety net protects employees and their families from financial burden following a work-related accident, injury, or illness. However, workers’ comp also protects employers from expensive litigation.
Unlike other injury cases, employees receive benefits regardless of who’s at fault or responsible for the injury; this is known as strict liability. Because workers don’t have to prove fault, access to this insurance is relatively straightforward, which makes it easy for employees to collect relief.
Workers who illegally use drugs or drink on the job are not eligible to collect benefits for injuries sustained while under the influence.
What’s Covered by Workers’ Compensation?
Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation laws provide several types of benefits to injured workers:
- Payments for lost wages—if an employee is disabled or unable to work, or if the employee is partially disabled and working less than he or she would be if not injured than he or she could be entitled to wage-loss benefits.
- Medical care—if an injury or illness requires surgery and/or medical services, the employee is entitled to these benefits. This coverage also extends to medicine, supplies, transportation costs to and from medical treatments, etc.; there can be no balance billed to the employee.
- Special loss benefits—these benefits are provided to workers who have suffered a significant and permanent loss or disfigurement (e.g., the loss of a finger, sight, or facial disfigurement caused by a fire).
- Death benefits—in the event of death, surviving family members may be entitled to death benefits.
Most work-related injuries qualify under workers’ compensation laws; this extends to occupational disease or illness and cumulative work-related trauma like carpal tunnel syndrome.
Note that workers’ compensation only covers economic damages related to the injury. Noneconomic damages like pain and suffering are not covered by workers’ comp.
Can I Sue a Third Party for my Injuries?
Depending on the circumstances, an injured worker or surviving family member may be able to sue a third party whose negligence contributed directly to the accident, injury, illness, or death. A third party is not the direct employer, but it could be an equipment manufacturer or a negligent driver.
Contact an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer to discuss the details of your claim.
Do I need an Attorney to Collect Workers Compensation?
You do not need an attorney to apply for workers’ compensation. A workers’ compensation lawyer is most helpful if a claim is wrongfully denied or if the employer or insurer disputes the claim.
If an employer disputes an injury, for example, a workers’ compensation lawyer can help the employee through alternative dispute resolution, or the appeals process with the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board or the Commonwealth Court.
Pennsylvania workers compensation laws are complicated; obtaining experienced legal representation could be critical to the outcome of a workers’ comp claim.