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Workplace Safety Violations May Allow Bypass of Workers’ Compensation’s Sole Remedy

Workplace Safety Violations May Allow Bypass of Workers’ Compensation’s Sole Remedy

It is generally understood that when an employee is injured on the job, it is workers’ compensation that provides for the injured worker’s medical expenses and pays for any time that they need off from work in order to recuperate. It has been this way ever since the system was put in place in 1915 in what was known as the “Grand Bargain” – workers traded away their right to file personal injury lawsuits against their employers in exchange for being provided with what was supposed to have been essentially guaranteed, no-fault insurance. Unfortunately, the Grand Bargain has not always worked out the way it was originally intended. Employers and their insurance companies routinely deny claims submitted by employees, and in some cases that leaves injured workers with nowhere to turn – even in instances where the injury or illness is a result of a blatant violation of work safety rules.  In an effort to provide a remedy beyond the workers’ compensation laws, some attorneys are fighting back on behalf of their clients by finding ways to bypass the exclusive remedy provisions of workers’ compensation statutes where an employer’s actions represent willful violations that rise to the level of “intentional torts.”

The exclusive remedy rules of workers’ compensation statutes provide that workers’ compensation is the only remedy available to an employee who is injured on the job. Though injured workers can file personal injury lawsuits against third parties whose negligence contributes to their injuries, they cannot file the same type of lawsuit accusing their employer of negligence. Now there is a growing movement, nationwide, where attorneys seek exceptions to the exclusive remedy doctrine.  This most often occurs where it can be proven that OSHA violations have taken place or that employers have willfully or intentionally caused harm. Proving intentional harm can be difficult, but some of these cases have been successful. In the state of New Jersey the courts have established a strict definition, which provides that an existing OSHA violation is a factor in making a determination of intent, but by itself is not enough.  There must be a combination of facts in evidence tending to support the allegation. In other states, a violation of OSHA regulations has proven to be enough.

Filing a personal injury lawsuit against your employer is generally not possible and may not be allowed in the first instance.  Like most things in the law, it depends on the facts in the case.  However, as more of these cases are attempted by workers’ compensation attorneys on behalf of their clients, more employers may be motivated to ensure that they are adhering to workplace safety standards. You can read the full article here.

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