We sometimes hear from people who are wondering whether they can sue their employer for damages after a work injury. It’s a fair question. These callers often believe that their employer caused their injury, either because of some oversight or because their employer did something to contribute to an unsafe working environment. So they claim the employer was at fault and they’re wondering if that matters.

The answer is that you generally can’t sue your employer for a work injury. Workers’ compensation is your only realistic option. Instead of a lawsuit, you file a claim for benefits, which will be paid by your employer’s insurance company, if you qualify. The claim is called an Application for Adjustment of Claim and it’s filed with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.

If your injury is covered, then your employer (through their insurer) will cover all of your related medical costs. The coverage extends beyond doctor visits and typically includes medications, physical therapy and even surgery. Illinois law generally allows the worker to choose their own doctor.

For an injury that requires you to take time off work, benefits include payment for some of your lost wages. This is called Temporary Total Disability, and the amount you get is based on your average weekly wage. Your checks should cover 2/3 of your average weekly wage until you can return to work. Sometimes, your doctor clears you for light duty and your employer can allow you to continue working in an alternate capacity within your doctor’s restrictions.

Workers’ compensation is an entire area of law meant to handle these situations outside of the typical court system. It was created as a compromise for employers and employees. The compromise is that employees get medical coverage and payment for lost wages without having to prove their case in court. They just have to show that their injury arose out of and in the course of their employment. Fault doesn’t matter, and they are compensated even if the injury was their own fault. The benefit to the employer is that they don’t have to face a lawsuit every time an employee is hurt on the job. In fact, they are pretty much immune from employee injury lawsuits.

If you aren’t technically an employee, then you might be able to sue. Typically, if workers’ compensation law applies to you, then you have to go that route. But independent contractors and volunteers aren’t included in the law, so they can sue based on fault. Another exception worth noting is that an employee can sue a third party for their injury. If someone other than their employer caused the injury, they might be able to pursue a lawsuit against that third party.

For better or for worse, an injured employee is generally prohibited from suing his or her employer for their injury. If you have other questions about how this area of law works or how your injury fits into the big picture, feel free to ask us.