Workers’ compensation claims, when handled correctly, can be a convenient way to get an injured employee financial coverage that pays for medical bills and a portion of their missing wages. However, the benefits of workers’ compensation end there for most claimants, making it impossible or at least highly unlikely that pain and suffering damages will be included in a workers’ comp policy. In the average case, damages associated with the emotional trauma and added hardships caused by a work injury will not be considered in a workers’ compensation claim at all.
Why is Noneconomic Damage Excluded in Workers’ Comp?
The underlying premise of workers’ compensation is to get necessary benefits to an injured worker quickly, regardless of what or who caused the workplace accident. As a no-fault system, workers’ compensation allows an injured worker to file a claim and get payments for medical bills even if it was their own negligence that led to their injury. If the worker is too hurt to continue work after missing several shifts, then wage replacement benefits can also be provided. Again, the worker’s own negligence is not typically a factor when assigning wage replacement benefits.
The trade-off to these advantages to workers’ compensation is that the available recoveries are limited. Different types of damages you might see in a personal injury claim will be absent in a workers’ compensation claim, including pain and suffering damages. This system helps protect workers by practically ensuring they get some sort of recovery and it also shields employers from expensive lawsuits.
Special Circumstances for Mental Health Difficulties
Emotional trauma and the consequences of mental health difficulties are not completely omitted from workers’ compensation benefits, though. There are situations in which damages related to the hardships caused by trauma can be paid to the claimant through workers’ comp. It depends on whether or not the development of those mental health difficulties can be solidly related to a physical on-the-job injury that was covered by the workers’ comp policy in the first place.
For example, imagine that you fell off a ladder at work and suffered a debilitating back injury that leaves you in chronic pain. Your doctor notes that you are near-constantly suffering from pain high on a numerical rating scale, which is causing you to experience depression, insomnia, and anxiety. If the doctor – and possibly a second psychiatrist – determines that your physical work injury has manifested into mental and emotional injuries, too, then you might be eligible to receive additional financial aid from the workers’ compensation plan. However, the added benefits would be used to get you treatments for your mental health difficulties and insomnia, not as noneconomic damages that could be used as you see fit.
Filing a Personal Injury Claim After a Work Accident
Suffering a work-related injury does not automatically bar you from filing a personal injury lawsuit, despite what a workers’ compensation insurance company might imply. As an injured person, you are allowed to demand fair compensation from whatever party or parties caused your injuries, regardless of if you were working at the time or not.
To this end, you can file a personal injury claim or lawsuit against a third party, i.e. not your employer, that caused your work accident while also filing a workers’ compensation claim with your employer. Through this separate civil claim, you can seek additional damages you otherwise would not have been able to secure through workers’ comp alone.
In a separate injury claim or lawsuit, you can demand compensation that helps pay for:
- Pain, suffering, and other noneconomic damages
- Portion of lost wages not provided through workers’ comp
- Property damage repair costs
- Bills for specialized, experimental, or elective treatments
For example: A bicycle food courier is struck by a drunk driver while bringing a meal to a customer across town. The courier can file for workers’ compensation benefits since he was performing a task necessary for his job, which can pay for his medical bills and missing wages. He could also file a personal injury claim against the negligent driver for any damages not covered already by workers’ comp, including pain and suffering.
When You Need to Fight for More Compensation
Sometimes an injured employee is not offered enough workers’ compensation upfront to pay for even necessarily medical bills – let alone pain and suffering. What happens then? Depending on the details of the case, there may be an opportunity to take legal action against the employer or insurance provider that has undervalued the claim.
Nathaniel Hansford is the managing partner at The Law Offices of Nathaniel F. Hansford and is highly experienced in the area of workers' compensation with 15+ years of experience on his side.