After being involved in an avoidable accident or sustaining a serious injury at work that was not handled well by your employer, you may be wondering what your rights are and how you should move forward. In more minor cases, workplace injuries are usually resolved internally, either through the company’s Human Resources department or through workers’ compensation, but sometimes this isn’t possible. In these instances, when the employer has committed a willful act of misconduct, the last-resort option—an employee suing an employer for negligence—becomes the only option available for moving forward and seeking justice. But, when can you sue your employer for negligence? How do you prove that what your employer did was unlawful?
You can sue your employer for negligence, but it is a complicated process. In order to prove your employer is guilty of negligence, you must be able to prove the company failed to exercise due caution or care, or even that an intentional act of harm was committed. While employers can be found liable for intentionally harming their employees, it can be difficult to prove without experienced legal counsel.
Furthermore, workers’ compensation tends to be the primary remedy in most states for situations in which workers are injured on the job, and it is a no-fault system. This means that companies pay for workers’ compensation insurance with the understanding that occasional accidents and injuries are sometimes unavoidable in the workplace and might happen for a variety of reasons. Employer negligence and fault aren’t considered when workers’ compensation comes into play, and, in most instances, an employee who accepts workers’ compensation is not legally permitted to bring a lawsuit against their employer for damages.
Workers’ compensation laws help employees quickly access the financial assistance they need to cover medical bills and lost wages, without having to go through the lengthy process of suing their employer and proving beyond a doubt that the employer was at fault. They also protect employers from the cost and trouble of being sued.
Workers’ compensation can be limited, however. For example, it does not pay damages for emotional pain and suffering, which a successful lawsuit on the basis of negligence would take into account. Workers’ compensation may not even apply in situations in which the employee’s accident or injury was the direct result of an intentional act of harm on the part of an employer. In Texas, employers have the legal right to opt out of purchasing workers’ compensation insurance, so employees who are injured on the job while working for a company that has opted out won’t have the option of filing for workers’ compensation.
Lawsuits against employers on the basis of negligence can take months or years to settle, so it can take a very long time for the employee to access their compensation. Still, in certain circumstances, filing a lawsuit against one’s employer for negligence is the best way to pursue justice when injuries are life-altering and your life—or the life of a loved one—is forever changed.
What is involved when you sue your employer for negligence? How does an employee go about bringing a lawsuit against a company or employer? What are the risks involved, and what are the employee’s legal rights? The answers to these questions are complicated, and typically unique to each particular case. The counsel of an experienced attorney will make all the difference between a lawsuit with a disappointing outcome and one which secures monetary compensation and a measure of justice for the plaintiff or surviving family members.
What is Negligence in Employment?
When something an employee does at work causes harm or injury to other employees, the employer can sometimes be held responsible under the area of the law that deals with negligence in employment. This might apply in situations in which the employer allowed someone to work in a certain position or perform a certain task for which they were not suited, whether due to temperament, lack of training, or some other factor, and someone got hurt as a result.
If an employer at a factory failed to provide one of its employees with proper training, for example, and then put that inadequately trained employee in charge of heavy machinery, the company could be found guilty of negligence if the employee’s lack of training caused an accident that injured a coworker. For example, getting hit by a company vehicle can be tied to employer negligence.
Employers found liable for negligence in employment might have to pay monetary compensation to employees who were harmed or to surviving family members, covering medical bills, lost wages, and some amount for pain and suffering. These employers might also have to adopt new, more stringent workplace policies and procedures, which would provide another, non-monetary measure of justice for the victims. The obvious caveat in negligence in employment cases is how difficult it can be to prove beyond a doubt that an employer is responsible and should be held liable for their mistake or intentional act or their employee’s mistake that led to harm for another one of their employees.
Can You Sue Your Employer for Emotional Distress?
Another question many people have asked attorneys is whether they can receive compensation for emotional distress from their employer, particularly after sustaining catastrophic injuries. This is yet another complicated area of the law, since it can be difficult without an experienced legal team to prove that an employer’s negligence, or even a deliberately harmful or reckless act on their part, led to emotional distress for the employee.
Unlike physical injuries, it is impossible to see and exceedingly difficult to quantify emotional pain and suffering. An employee might be able to document that they sought medical or psychiatric help to deal with insomnia, anxiety, or depression, for example, but proving the seriousness of their distress can be difficult. Proving that the emotional distress was actually caused by a negligent or deliberate act on the part of their employer can be more challenging still. Being able to prove that an employee lodged repeated complaints with an employer or a company’s HR department that went unaddressed, for example, might help provide more of a basis for pursuing damages for emotional distress.
As in all negligence claims, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove that the defendant failed to provide due caution or care, and that failure led directly to harm to the plaintiff. Thus, in negligence claims lodged by employees against their employers, employees who wish to sue for emotional distress must be able to prove that their employer failed in some way to protect their emotional stability, and that failure led to significant emotional distress.
Suing Your Employer While Still Employed
In many negligence lawsuits against employers, it is in the plaintiff’s best interest to continue working through the course of their lawsuit, no matter how emotionally difficult that may be, to the extent to which that is physically possible. Each individual lawsuit involves unique factors and details, of course, which must be determined on a case-by-case basis by the attorneys involved in the claim. Generally speaking, however, continuing to work can strengthen the employee’s case against their employer, whereas it might weaken a claim if the employee were to voluntarily leave their position. Regardless of the particulars, suing your employer while still employed is a tricky situation with a high potential for awkwardness, if not outright retaliation or worse—but on the other hand, continuing to work could pay off in the long run when pursuing legal action against your employer.
The obvious problem is that in many cases when someone sues their employer while remaining employed, superiors and colleagues make it extremely uncomfortable for the employee when at work. Retaliation, discrimination, and isolation are just some of the things employees have experienced while suing their employers and continuing to show up at work every day.
In some cases, it isn’t worth the toll on the employee’s emotional well-being to continue coming to work under such difficult circumstances. In cases in which the employee is able to withstand the emotional toll of continuing to work with the people who caused their injury or suffering, however, doing so is ultimately the best way to help support the desired outcome for their lawsuit.
How to Win a Lawsuit Against Your Employer
When you have decided that you are going to follow through with a lawsuit against your employer, many plaintiffs worry about what the result will be and want to know what their best options are for winning a lawsuit against their employer. One very important step is to stay calm and not get emotional. If you have reported your grievances to the Human Resources department, it is imperative that you stay cool and collected. Becoming overly emotional can actually hurt your case.
At work, start collecting documentation on your employer’s negligent behavior. Collect emails, submitted grievances, and any meeting notes that could help your case, and bring them home with you so you can create a timeline of events. Gather employee handbooks, manuals, and your employment contract. If you are suing for emotional distress as well, locate records of going to professional help for your workplace grievances.
When you have located all of your needed documents, schedule a consultation with an attorney in a firm with years of experience in negligence cases. An initial consultation with a lawyer in the field will help confirm that you have a case of negligence in employment. Your attorney will also be able to educate you on any other documents you will need to support your specific case, as well as statutes of limitations that may require you to take action on your case quickly.
If you’re planning to sue your employer for negligence, hiring skilled and compassionate legal representation in order to protect your interests, cover all your bases, and help you reach success is essential. A knowledgeable and experienced attorney will know the best legal strategy to seek compensation from your employer and can give you the best chance of reaching a successful settlement.
Slack Davis Sanger Can Help Victims Seek Justice
The attorneys at Slack Davis Sanger have combined decades’ worth of experience in pursuing justice for clients who have been harmed by their employers’ negligent acts, including negligence in employment. Our legal professionals are fierce and compassionate advocates for our clients, and we use every resource available to pursue the full compensation to which our clients are entitled. If you have been the victim of negligence on the part of your employer, contact us for your free consultation, so we can learn the particulars of your situation and advise you on whether filing a claim would be in your best interest.
The firm handles cases involving catastrophic personal injuries and deaths. Our work spans three decades of handling airplane and helicopter crashes, truck and car accidents, oilfield and construction accidents, and other devastating accidents. We try lawsuits throughout the country in both federal and state courts and have recovered hundreds of millions of dollars for our clients. To date, we have handled or tried cases in 47 states, read more about our attorneys and firm.