Most of the time, you cannot sue your employer for personal injury in California. This is the rule that most attorneys know.
However, when you are injured at work, there are two things you should know. First, you have a workers’ compensation claim automatically, regardless who was at fault. Learn more about that here.
Secondly, you may have a possible lawsuit against someone else other than your employer. The necessary question to ask is: Did someone other than who I work for cause or help cause my injury? If so, you have what attorneys call a “third party case” or “third party lawsuit.” What this means is that you have a case against the person or corporation who caused your harm, even if it occurred while you were at work.
Let’s look at an example: Let’s say you’re injured on a construction site. If you are the operator of a heavy piece of equipment, and an accident occurs when a chain breaks and a beam falls on you, you have a case against the person who made the chain and/or maybe against the person who built the machine, even if you do not have a case against your employer.
These cases are called third party cases, and are extremely important when there is a serious injury or death.
The reason you cannot sue your employer is because of a California law that states the exclusive remedy is the workers’ compensation system. There are exceptions to this general rule, of course. These are complex legal concepts, but we will explain them in plain language as best as we can. When there is an exception, you can sue your employer. You may sue your employer if the employer falls into one of these categories:
- Act in a dual capacity.
- Fraudulent Concealment
- Employer assault or ratification of that assault.
- Power press.
- Uninsured employer.
What do these mean? Here is a brief explanation of every category.
- Dual Capacity: If the employer acts outside of their role as the employer, you may have a case against them. For example, if the employer makes toasters, and the toaster, not the employment environment, causes the harm, the toaster in the second capacity leads to this exception.
- Fraudulent Concealment: If the employer covers up the injury and the connection of the injury to the workplace, and further harm occurs because of this cover up, the employer does not have the protection of the workers’ compensation exclusive remedy rule.
- Employer Assault: If the employer assaults you, or supports the assault on you, you can sue your employer.
- Power Press: If there are guards on a power press that are removed, the employer can be sued directly. This is because people kept losing their hands in power presses, and this exception was specifically carved out to try to prevent these injuries.
- Uninsured employer: If the employer does not have workers’ compensation insurance, you may be able to sue them for your injuries.