How Employers Often Get Away with Negligence

Michael GrossmanSeptember 23, 2015 4 minutes

The vast majority of people, though they might take it for granted sometimes, understand that they have the right to sue those who cause harm to them or their families. One would think that this right would extend to anyone under any circumstances.

Unfortunately that's not always true. In most cases where someone is injured on the job, they have no right to sue their employer. The employer usually avoids punishment altogether, and I've got a huge problem with that.

How workers' comp operates.

You might be wondering why someone who's hurt on the job can't sue their employer. The way the law used to work, employees were able to sue their employer for workplace injuries. However, all fifty states have adopted some form of a workers' comp system. The system takes away an employee's right to sue an employer, and replaces it with a type of work injury welfare that functions quite similarly to unemployment benefits.

If an employer is covered under these programs, they are granted complete immunity in most states. But you might be thinking, "so what?" Does it matter if you can't sue? If you are covered under workers' comp, you're still getting compensated for your injuries, right?

Well that's just the thing. There's more to lawsuits than compensation. Lawsuits allow the public to find out about misdeeds that would otherwise go unnoticed. Further, the fact that lawsuits result in employers incurring the possibility of significant financial losses makes the fear of lawsuits a powerful deterrent. Think about that for a second. If speeding tickets in your town cost $10,000, you'd never speed. But if a law was passed that said that any time you speed your car insurance pays for the ticket, you, like most people, would probably be a lot more cavalier about breaking the law. Guess what? The same thing applies to negligent employers.

In addition, the amount that an employee gets paid through a workers' comp system is usually very insignificant because the amount of medical, income, death, or burial benefits are already set at a rate through written laws, and are not negotiable at all.

Imagine that you're in a car accident where a driver loses control of their vehicle, runs you off the road into a tree, and you have to have your leg amputated as a result of your injuries. Under the laws of this country, you'd be able to sue that person to cover all of your losses, and they'd be obligated to pay you. But imagine normal personal injury law worked the way that workers' comp does. Under a "set law" you might get paid $50 dollars a week or so as compensation. Ok, well it's nice that you're getting $50, but is that enough to cover the loss of your leg, your medical bills, lost wages, physical therapy, a prosthetic limb, pain and suffering, and metal anguish? Of course not. Is the negligent driver getting punished in this situation? Again, clearly not.

At the end of the day, the biggest shortcoming of the workers' comp system is that the employer is not the one who pays for their mistakes. Instead, the money comes from a state-run insurance fund. The idea that you can harm someone, one of your own employees no less, and never have to pay restitution, is really just an offensive concept.

An example: Imagine that Bob works for a construction company in Dallas, and his employer instructs him to work on the roof of a building. However, Bob's employer does not provide him with a safety harness or training with regard to that specific task. Is this negligence on the part of his employer? Absolutely. The employer is failing in their general duty to provide a safe workplace and furbish safe instrumentalities, which is a classic case of employer negligence. If Bob were to fall and become injured, even severely so, he could not sue his employer for negligence. Instead, he'd only be able to get paltry workers' compensation benefits. His employer would essentially escape any punishment or accountability.

Folks, I live in Dallas, and that's not how I want my fellow citizens to be treated by their employer. But what incentive does the employer have to NOT engage in such behavior? If injuring workers doesn't result in any kind of financial hit, why would they stop doing business that way? It's literally cheaper for them to hurt employees and cast them to the side than it is for them to put in the effort to train them and provide them with safety gear. That's unacceptable.

There may be a solution.

Even though the workers' comp system allows employers to avoid responsibility for harming their employees, it is often the case that workers can not hide behind workers' comp immunity when they have engaged in an extreme degree of negligence known as gross negligence. My firm has been pretty effective at proving that workplace fatalities were caused by gross negligence rather than regular negligence, and this has allowed us to circumvent the workers' comp laws in several states so that the employers can be taken to task.

In addition to these exclusions, third party companies can be held at fault and sued for negligence. An example of a third party might be the company that created a machine at your workplace, or the manufacturer of a part that malfunctioned on your 18-wheeler. The laws of workers' compensation are complex, but give our law firm a call at 855-326-0000, and one of our attorneys will be happy to explain it to you and to answer any specific questions you might have.