Personal Injury vs. Workers’ Comp: Which Should I File?
Suffering a workplace injury can be a distressing experience for any California employee. It’s essential for employees to understand their rights and options for securing compensation after an injury. From repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) to work vehicle accidents, getting injured at work happens more often than you may think, especially in certain industries, like construction and healthcare.
Many hardworking Californians are understandably confused when it comes to filing for workers’ comp benefits versus personal injury claims. Fortunately, there are legal protections in place to help injured workers receive the support and care they need, allowing them to focus on their recovery without reaping undue financial burdens—such as expensive medical bills, rehabilitative therapy, and other treatment costs.
A seasoned legal advocate with specialized experience both personal injury and workers’ compensation laws can be an invaluable asset to you following a workplace injury, as they can clarify key differences and recommend the best legal recourse for your unique circumstances.
Keep reading to learn about the unique characteristics of workers' compensation and when to file for each after workplace injuries in California.
Personal Injury vs. Workers’ Comp Laws in California
There are two primary avenues for pursuing compensation after a workplace accident: workers' compensation and personal injury.
Workers’ Compensation in California
Workers' compensation is a system designed to provide benefits to employees who are injured or become ill as a result of their work. In California, all employers are required to carry workers' compensation insurance, regardless of the number of employees they have. Sole proprietors are an exception to this rule.
Workers’ comp is a no-fault system, meaning that employees can receive benefits without having to prove that their employer was negligent or at fault for their injury. The employee only needs to demonstrate that the injury occurred at work or was related to their job duties.Workers' compensation can pay various types of benefits, including:
- Medical treatment for injuries suffered on the job
- Wage replacement (indemnity)
- Benefits during recovery
- Disability benefits if the worker cannot return to their previous job
In case of fatal accidents, workers’ comp can also provide death benefits to the dependents of the deceased worker.
Time Restrictions for Workers’ Comp Claims
The statute of limitations for filing a workers' compensation claim is 1 year from the date of injury. If an injury is not reported within 30 days, the worker could lose the right to receive workers' compensation benefits.
For most employees, California workers' comp benefits last up to 2 years from the date of the injury. However, in cases of severe injuries, like serious burns or chronic lung disease, benefits may last up to approximately 4.5 years.
California’s Personal Injury Laws
Personal injury claims in California are quite different from workers' compensation claims. Unlike workers’ comp, personal injury claims require proof of negligence and can provide a broader range of damages. Some key differences that set personal injury claims apart from workers’ comp include:
- Fault-based system –Unlike workers' comp, personal injury claims operate on a fault-based system. This means that to recover damages, the injured party must prove that another person or entity was negligent and that this negligence caused their injury.
- Scope of damages –Personal injury claims can include a wider range of damages than workers' comp claims. These may encompass not only medical bills and lost wages, but also "pain and suffering," emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life. In some cases, punitive damages may be awarded as well.
- Jury trial –A personal injury case can go to trial if a settlement cannot be reached. The decision is then in the hands of a jury, which can result in higher or lower awards
- No immunity for employers –If an employer's intentional conduct causes a worker's injury, the worker may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the employer. This is an exception to the general rule that workers' comp is the exclusive remedy for workplace injuries.
- Third-party claims –If a third party (someone other than the employer or a co-worker) is responsible for the accident, the injured worker may have the right to bring a personal injury claim against that third party.
- Statute of limitations –In California, the statute of limitations for most personal injury cases is two years from the date of the injury.
Injured employees should consider filing a personal injury claim instead of, or in addition to, a workers' comp claim when their injury was caused by someone's negligence or intentional conduct. Examples include cases involving:
- Toxic substances
- Defective products
- The injury was caused by a negligent third party
- The employer acted intentionally or negligently to cause harm
It’s imperative to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer before making these decisions, as they can significantly affect your rights and potential recovery.
Zealous Advocacy for Injured Workers in CA
At Alvandi Law Group, our accomplished attorneys have extensive experience helping injured workers throughout Orange County receive the maximum compensation they rightfully deserve following a workplace accident. Our seasoned advocates have over 75 years of combined experience representing employees in a broad range of workers’ comp and personal injury cases, making us well-equipped to guide your steps with wisdom and purpose to achieve a favorable outcome. Don’t wait to seek compensation after a workplace injury. Reach out to our office to learn how we can advocate on your behalf, allowing you to focus on your health and healing.
Injured in the workplace? Our California attorneys can fight for the maximum compensation you deserve. Call (800) 980-6905 to schedule a free consultation.