I Want to Sue My Employer for Negligence, Why Can’t I?

Workers' CompensationThe short answer: 

Workers’ Compensation Law is the legal answer to protecting both employees who are injured at work and their employers. Prior to the institution of workers’ compensation protections, the legal process of employees suing their employers for damages related to work injuries wasn’t serving the best interest of employees or employers. Employees were often left without any financial compensation and in the cases when an employer was determined to be negligent, the cost of damages often caused the company to go under. 

A skilled workers’ compensation lawyer can help make sure that you receive all the benefits and protections rightfully owed to you after you have been injured on the job. 


The details:

One of the more common things I hear from injured workers is the desire to sue their employer in court for negligence.  Many times, an employer’s failure to fix a safety concern is the cause of an on- the-job accident.  On countless instances, I have heard some variation of 

“I told my boss that the floor was too slippery” or “they knew the machine was unsafe.”  

Generally, when somebody in society is hurt due to the fault of another, we can sue the negligent party and recover damages including pain and suffering.  Workers’ compensation does not work this way.  The question becomes “Why?” The answer goes back to the origin of workers’ compensation.  The Industrial Revolution was a period of intense change in all areas of life, especially work life: machinery became heavier and more automated while laborers unified and demanded better working conditions. 

 As described in Upton Sinclair’s famous book, The Jungle, industrial accidents and injuries were common around the turn of the century.  As a result, employers were being pulled into court more and more to defend negligence cases. Likewise, injured workers bringing lawsuits were taking a gamble that they could prove the negligence of their employers, and many failed to recover because of their own contributory negligence or sheer lack of ability to prove a fault.  Employers disliked being in court and potential large judgements; employees disliked the all or nothing uncertainty the legal remedy provided.

The so-called “Grand Bargain” and birth of workers’ compensation law allowed injured workers to receive sure and certain benefits, but injured workers would no longer be able to sue their employers in court for negligence related to an on the job injury.  Employers would not have to worry about being pulled into court for negligence, and workers insured that they would receive compensation should they be hurt while working. Idaho’s implementation of this can be found in Idaho Code § 72-201.

An injured worker is generally not able to sue his or her employer in court related to an on- the-job injury.  As with many laws, there are exceptions to the rule (such as an intentional assault by an employer) but for most injured workers the exclusive remedy is limited to workers’ compensation.  

Should you have questions about whether your case allows you to sue your employer, or if you have questions about workers’ compensation in general, your best bet is to contact a knowledgeable attorney.