No, in general you cannot sue your employer if you already accepted workers’ compensation. However, only a licensed legal professional is qualified to answer that question with how it pertains to each unique and individual case.
Some of the complexity of this question may be more understandable with a brief history of how workers’ compensation laws came about.
In the United States, workers’ compensation laws were developed to protect both employees and employers.
Up until mandatory workers’ compensation insurance gave employees the right to be reimbursed for medical costs incurred because of an on the job injury, and the right to payment for lost wages as a result of an on the job injury, employees could sue an employer for these things. A problem with this system is that it would often take years to get a case to settle or to be tried in court. While weeding through a legal case in order to sue their employer, an injured employee could still not work, did not have any income, and had to pay his/her own medical bills.
Mandatory workers’ compensation insurance is now offered to employees in exchange for mandatory relinquishment of the employee’s right to sue their employer for negligence. This tradeoff between guaranteed, limited coverage for an employee and giving up their right to legal recourse is known as, “the compensation bargain.”
With “the compensation bargain” in place, employers no longer have to worry (as much) about exorbitant awards coming out of their pockets for an injured employee. Historically, these types of awards had negative impacts on the employers resources that are needed to successfully run a business, oftentimes with bankruptcy as the end result.
The system of collective liability that “the compensation bargain” helps to create, thus helps to protect both employers and employees.
This system can be considered a “no fault system” because it views injuries on the job injuries as unavoidable aspects of a work relationship. With this in place, there is no need to prove that your employer, or someone employed by the employer, caused your injury.
Employers pay money into their workers’ compensation insurance in the hopes of protecting themselves from being sued by their employees. What the employers pay into their workers’ compensation insurance is then paid to an employee who is hurt on the job. The amount that an employee gets is dependent upon the kind of injury the employee is suffering from.
Typically, an employee does not get money from workers’ compensation insurance for their pain and suffering. It does protect an employee from being denied compensation for medical bills and lost wages even if the employer does not have the funds to pay you what you are entitled to. The workers’ compensation insurance carrier insures that your medical bills will be taken care of. This is why an injured employee is required to make injury claims against their employer with a workers’ compensation claim instead of a typical lawsuit.
To go back to the original question, the answer is, “No, you cannot sue,” but as mentioned earlier, only a lawyer who is licensed to practice in the jurisdiction where your injury occurred is qualified to give you legal advice, or the answer to this question and how it pertains to your specific situation.
Contact Cohen & Cohen, P.C., today if you have questions about workers’ compensation in the Washington, D.C., area.