The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act makes holding your coworkers or employer civilly liable for injuries you sustained while working difficult. This is because Workers’ Compensation is considered a “no-fault benefit” in Pennsylvania.
There are concessions to this rule that can be made, although enough mitigating evidence must exist that either an employee or employer committed an act not covered under the PWCA.
Now, you may be wondering, “Can I sue my employer for negligence?”
The short answer is…possibly.
But, before engaging your employer in a lengthy legal battle, study these tips to determine if you have enough information to bring a civil action against the responsible party or parties.
Investigate Potential Third-Party Involvement
Industrial workplaces and construction worksites have both employees of the company, and workers commissioned to provide third-party services to the construction firm or manufacturer.
For example, some automotive manufacturers will bring in parts sorters or outsourced quality control workers. Similarly, construction companies work with multiple subcontractors who specialize in concrete, drywall, electric and flooring.
There are many types of workplace injuries third parties can cause due to negligence.
Accidents induced by a third-party worker can be litigated by the injured person and their legal team. Since the employer is absolved of any responsibility under Pennsylvania law, claims against them would be released even though the worker was performing duties for that employer before being injured.
However, if the subcontractor or outsourced worker causes an injury to an individual in their place of employment, civil damages could be sought.
Some examples of outside involvement in an employee injury include:
- A security company hired by your employer fails to protect employees from a gunman;
- An electrician outsourced by your construction employer fails to clean up their work area, causing an injury to you;
- A janitorial worker hired by your company fails to notify employees of a freshly waxed floor, causing you serious injury when walked across.
- Your factory hires an electrician to fix a robotic welder. That worker fails to lock the machine out while being repaired, and an employee operates it, causing them injury.
So, since you are wondering, “Can I sue my employer for an injury on the job induced by a third party?” the short answer is yes!
If you believe third-party claims apply to your workplace injury, report this to your attorney. Note that filing a civil action against an outside party does not eliminate your right to PA Workers Compensation.
Find Out Your Employer’s Workers Compensation Insurance Status
All Pennsylvania companies who put workers on their payroll must carry Workers’ Compensation insurance. There is no exception to this rule. Failing to abide by this mandatory rule could prove costly to the employer.
Suing a company for injury when no Workers’ Compensation policy exists is possible, but you should cover your bases before requesting legal assistance.
You will know if the employer is uninsured when any (or all) of the following conditions are present:
You Are Not Presented With Proper Paperwork
This normally happens the day after the injury or before, although one should not panic if the presentation of forms takes an extra day or two.
You See No Evidence of Insurance Posted
Employers are to notify their workers of their rights to Workers’ Compensation by placing signage in a high traffic area, such as the breakroom or the door of the HR office.
You Are Denied Emergency Care
There are some employers who would rather not deal with an injured employee unless that injury is life-threatening. Most employers will call an ambulance to care for their injured staff. If you are denied care, it is probably because the employer fears the repercussions of not having a Workers’ Compensation insurer in which they can report the incident.
Exempt from Workers’ Compensation laws in Pennsylvania are domestic or casual laborers, licensed real estate brokers or sales staff, sole proprietors with no employees, commission-only licensed insurance representatives, children under 18 and spouses of farm employers, and seasonal farm workers who earn less than $1,200 annually.
When an employer fails to comply with Workers’ Compensation insurance requirements, including their failure to carry state-mandated insurance, they no longer receive the protections that come with that policy.
Intentional Acts Are An Exception. Hire Counsel Immediately.
Another question many ask is, “Can I sue my employer for negligence if they created an environment where an injury was likely?
Intentional acts are one way to circumvent the “no-fault” provision of the PWCA.
So, how does this work?
Assume you work on an assembly line with a wall guard between you and moving parts that could injure you. One day, you clock in and begin working on your line but notice the guard has been removed. The machine malfunctions, shooting debris into your eyes.
In this scenario, because the employer intentionally removed the protective barrier separating you from moving parts they knew could hurt you, they could be held liable outside of Workers’ Compensation laws due to their gross negligence.
Eye injuries sustained at work could cause permanent blindness. This would qualify you for numerous benefits apart from Workers’ Compensation, such as Social Security Disability and compensation from civil action.
Employers Have No Recourse In Sexual Harassment and Defamation Cases
Sexual harassment is inexcusable regardless of where it takes place.
From a legal standpoint, an employer who aids or participates in sexual harassment of their employees can be held liable for emotional, psychological and financial damages the employee sustained. All the employee needs to do is report the incident to the company HR department or their immediate supervisor, phone an attorney and excuse themselves from work until the issue is resolved if they fear the individual who harassed them.
Defamation cases are trickier.
To prove an employer defamed you, the following conditions must exist:
- A statement must have been made;
- That statement must be factually untrue; and
- The claimant (you) must have enough evidence to prove the statement was made maliciously and to cause harm.
Opinions do not qualify as false statements. However, if enough evidence exists, suing an employer for negligence on the grounds they defamed would be prudent. Therefore, to sue an employer for negligence based on defamation, you must report factually false statements to your attorney provided you can produce evidence that defamation took place.
Know Your Rights Regarding Retaliation Claims Before Filing Suit
A potential client once asked us, “Can you sue your employer in PA if they retaliate?”
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), retaliation in all forms is illegal in the workplace. This includes retaliating against employees who file Workers’ Compensation claims. If you were terminated without justification shortly after filing a claim against your employer, they could be held accountable in civil court. Although easy to file in court, these cases are equally challenging and complex.
To show how intricate retaliation cases can be, we will use Macken v. Lord Corp., 585 A.2d 1106 (Pa. Super. 1991) as an example.
The employee, a material handler, was injured on the job and filed for Workers’ Compensation. After that, he was terminated for what the company called “reasonable business reasons”.
The employee brought a civil suit claiming intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, wrongful termination and breach of covenant. After appealing to the High Court, the court sided with the employer since the terminated employee failed to provide sufficient evidence to back his claims.
Being fired after filing for Workers’ Compensation is serious. Take the time to learn your rights in these cases before filing a negligence claim to avoid the same fate Macken suffered in the above-referenced case.
Faulty Products Must Be Addressed With The Manufacturer
Even though an employer purchased machinery and commissioned employees to operate it, they are not directly responsible if that machine is faulty unless negligent maintenance is proven.
For example, if your employer purchases a new printing press to mass produce literature, any injuries that arise from clear and obvious manufacturing flaws would be the responsibility of the machine maker.
However, if the employer instructed their maintenance technician to purposely overlook an issue to keep production moving, and the employee was injured due to that negligence, any civil action would be directed toward the employer.
If you believe your case involves product liability, you should contact an attorney soon. Pennsylvania imposes a 2-year statute of limitations with a 12-year statute of repose on this claim type.
So if you asked your family, “Can I sue my employer for negligence if it was product related?” you would indeed be within your rights to do so.
Never Fight Claims Alone (Seriously…Don’t)
Even if your case is strong enough that you do not need legal assistance, we cannot stress enough that fighting your negligence claim in court without competent counsel to guide you is dangerous.
For one, your employer will not skimp on legal counsel. For another, their legal team will be trained in defending their actions regardless if they are guilty or not.
An employer must be found guilty of allowing sexual harassment, defamation, have involvement in product-related injuries or must have either been involved with or created an environment where intentional actions resulted in an employee injury. Most all work injuries will be covered by Workers’ Compensation by default unless a specific condition as mentioned above exists.
Interested in learning if you can sue your employer in Pennsylvania for acts not covered by the PWCA? Ever asked coworkers or your spouse, “If I am injured at work can I sue?”
The attorneys at Krasno Krasno & Onwudinjo will discuss your options and can answer any questions you have about holding your employer accountable during your free initial consultation.
Call to schedule yours today at (844) 243-4932. We offer charge fees in employer negligence cases we agree to litigate unless we win.