Sometimes, an employee is hurt because the boss or other workers or the company is negligent. In those situations, one of the first questions is: Can I sue my employer if they negligently hurt me?”
Typically, New Yorkers who get hurt at work cannot sue their employer for negligence or any personal injury related claim because Workers Compensation laws provide benefits to the employee.
Just because you cannot make a claim against your employer does not mean you have no case. Many people who are hurt at work have “third party” personal injury cases.
A third party case is where the employee can file a lawsuit against another company or person whose negligence caused injury or death.
For example, in many New York construction accidents, construction workers can bring a case against the general contractor and/or owner of the construction site for violating construction safety laws. New York Labor Law Sections 200, 240, and 241(6) hold construction site owners and general contractors accountable for bad safety practices.
In trucking, bus, and car accidents, people who are working on the road and are injured in a car accident may be able to bring a case against the vehicle driver and that vehicle’s company while also receiving workers compensation benefits from their employer.
People injured by a defective product at work may have a case against the product manufacturer.
Those are just a few of the common examples where people who are hurt at work can bring a claim against someone other than their employer for negligence. Only a lawyer who is experienced in personal injury practice can truly evaluate whether you have a third party personal injury case.
At one time, people who got hurt at work could sue their employer but they had to overcome major legal obstacles. Those obstacles sometimes were impossible to overcome.
To avoid having to pay for people who got hurt on the job, employers used to be able to themselves against lawsuits by making three legal arguments:
New York has restricted when those arguments can apply. The fellow servant rule is completely abolished in New York. An employer cannot blame the injured person’s fellow worker for the harm. All employees are agents of the employer, like arms off the main body. They have the employer’s authority and act on the employer’s behalf. Contributory negligence doctrine was modified to “comparative fault” where each party is held responsible for their own contribution of fault. That way, if someone is partially responsible for their own fate, they are only held partially responsible, not completely. Assumption of risk arguments almost only apply in the context of playing sports and cannot apply to employees merely because they chose the job.
Seeing how frequently workers were hurt and killed in dangerous environments, New York law evolved to guarantee benefits to employees who are hurt at work in exchange for forfeiting their right to file lawsuits. Although workers compensation benefits will not provide full wages or damages for pain, suffering, and lost enjoyment of life, Workers Compensation benefits help countless employees in New York.
In New York, the only instances in which you can sue their employer are where the employer does not carry workers compensation insurance, where the employer commits an intentional tort (e.g. battery or assault), or where the employee is technically an “independent contractor.”
If you have questions about your rights after an accident at work, call a personal injury lawyer to evaluate your case.