Georgia Workers’ Compensation Blog, December 2016
Nathan E. Woody, CORALES & WOODY, LLC
How is Workers’ Compensation Different from Personal Injury?
Many people who are injured at work are confused about the difference between filing a workers’ compensation claim and pursuing a traditional personal injury lawsuit.
Here are two major differences between workers’ compensation and general personal injury or tort law:
The Assignment of Fault
Workers’ compensation is a “no fault” system. This means that in order for an injured worker to receive benefits under workers’ compensation, he or she does not have to prove the injury was the result of the employer or a co-worker doing something wrong. Moreover, the injured worker, or “Claimant,” does not have to prove his or her own fault was not a factor in causing the accident (say, for instance, the Claimant’s forgetfulness or clumsiness). With limited exceptions, as long as the Claimant was hurt during the performance of his or her job, it does not matter who was “at fault” in causing the accident. This is hugely valuable to the Claimant in a workers’ compensation claim.
By contrast, in personal injury cases, the injured party must show that the tort or wrongful act which resulted in his or her injury was caused by the negligence of another. This can be a significant hurdle given that many injuries are not the result of a clear mistake or negligence by another. It is also challenging in that a jury may find that the injury was the result of negligence by more than one party, even including the injured party. In that case, if the injured victim is assigned a significant enough percentage of fault or blame in causing his or her own injury, they may be completely prevented from recovering any damages.
In a workers’ compensation claim, the injured worker is traditionally limited to recovering medical and disability benefits. This means the Claimant cannot request two very significant types of damages frequently sought in personal injury claims: 1) pain and suffering, and 2) punitive damages. Since these types of damages often account for the “big verdict” type of awards that people have heard about in the news or media, many people are disappointed to learn that workers’ compensation as a system is a more limited remedy.
Conclusion: The Grand Bargain
The above differences between workers’ compensation and traditional personal injury constitute what some refer to as “the grand bargain” of a workers’ compensation system. In other words, by giving the Claimant a more streamlined, “no fault” system, with easier access to medical care, the Employer receives in return a shield from large tort lawsuits which could involve damages for pain and suffering, and in some extreme cases, punitive damages.
If you are not sure whether your case is a workers’ compensation case or a personal injury case, please call Corales & Woody immediately to schedule a free consultation to review your case and discuss your options.