Every year in the United States, nearly three million work-related illnesses and injuries are reported. Most working people in Texas know that if they’re injured at the workplace, they can file a workers’ compensation claim to obtain adequate medical care and reimbursement for their lost wages. However, if a third party caused or contributed to a workplace injury, the injured worker may also in most instances pursue a personal injury claim against that third party.

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The workers’ compensation system was created to keep workers from filing personal injury lawsuits against their employers. Employees are entitled to temporary disability benefits if they are injured on the job and cannot work. Nobody gets rich off workers’ compensation – the system offers benefits that are barely adequate to help injured employees meet their obligations while they recuperate. If you are injured in the workplace, get the medical treatment you need and take advantage of other available assistance. Injured employees should also consider consulting with an experienced personal injury lawyer.

WHEN ARE INJURED WORKERS ALLOWED TO SUE THIRD PARTIES?

According to the Texas Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2015, more than 11.5 million people were legally employed in this state. In Texas, if you are one of those 11.5 million and you are injured at your workplace, you’ll probably be told that the only compensation you can receive will come from your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance. Although this is the rule, there are a number of exceptions to the rule that may allow you to sue for damages caused by workplace injuries.

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In the greater Houston area, for example, a Houston personal injury attorney may be able to help injured workers recover damages from a third party if that third party was in any way to blame for a workplace injury. For example, if you are a delivery driver and you are injured in an accident with a negligent motorist while making deliveries, you may file a workers’ compensation claim, and you may also file a personal injury claim against the negligent driver. Injured employees may also be able to file a personal injury claim in these situations:

  • A worker injured by a defective product may have grounds for a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of the product.
  • A worker injured by a toxic substance may have grounds to pursue a toxic tort lawsuit against the manufacturer of the substance.
  • A worker injured because of an employer’s intentional or egregious conduct may have grounds to bring a personal injury lawsuit against the employer.
  • If an employer does not carry workers’ compensation insurance, an injured employee may have grounds for a personal injury claim against the employer.

Workers’ compensation benefits are minimal, so workers’ comp does not compensate injured employees for pain and suffering, does not provide punitive damages, and does not hold employers accountable when they’ve allowed dangerous workplace conditions to persist. Thus, it’s imperative for injured workers to understand their legal rights outside of the workers’ compensation system.

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WHAT IF YOU ARE INJURED BY A DEFECTIVE PRODUCT?

When an employee is injured by any piece of equipment or any machine that is defective or that failed to work properly, the manufacturer of the machine or equipment can be held responsible if the manufacturer knew of the danger and didn’t properly warn users of the danger. In product liability cases, when an injury victim prevails, the manufacturer has to compensate the injury victim for medical bills, lost wages, and sometimes for pain and suffering as well.

If an employee has been injured by a defective machine or other defective equipment in the workplace, that employee should apply for workers’ comp benefits, speak with a personal injury lawyer about a product liability claim, and submit a complaint to the Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). Notifying OSHA is a critical step if the employer is still requiring the use of the equipment.

WHAT IF YOU ARE INJURED BY A TOXIC SUBSTANCE?

In a number of occupations, the chemicals and other substances that employees work with can be toxic and responsible for serious injuries and illnesses. These substances may include asbestos, chromium compounds, silica, mercury, benzene, and radium, but any dangerous substance or chemical could be the focus of a toxic tort lawsuit. Toxic substances cause two general types of injuries: the acute injuries that are obvious immediately, and latent injuries that may take years to emerge.

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Acute injuries may include poisoning or burn injuries. Latent injuries can be as serious as cancer or lung disease. Even though they tend to be more serious, latent injuries are also usually more difficult to prove. However, workers afflicted with asbestos is or mesothelioma almost always prevail with personal injury lawsuits because the link between asbestos exposure and those diseases has been proven in scores of previous cases. When a toxic substance injures a worker, the worker can usually sue the manufacturer of the substance as well as the manufacturers of safety equipment that failed to prevent harm from the substance.

If you have been injured or sickened by a toxic substance, and if that substance is continuing to make your place of work unsafe for yourself and others, consider filing a complaint with OSHA, and talk to a personal attorney about your legal rights. Especially if more than a year has passed between your exposure and your injury or illness, you will need an experienced lawyer to help you sort out the legal complications.

WHAT IF AN EMPLOYER DOES NOT HAVE WORKERS’ COMP INSURANCE?

If an employer has no workers’ compensation insurance, then an injured employee has the option of filing a personal injury claim against the employer. Although a lawsuit can provide more compensation than workers’ compensation benefits provide, filing a personal injury claim also means accepting the burden of proving that the employer was negligent – something that workers’ compensation doesn’t require.

Of course, after any accident, an injury victim should seek medical treatment – first and immediately. Even if a person doesn’t “feel” injured, it’s important to be checked out – and be safe rather than sorry – because many kinds of injuries can remain latent and undetected for days or weeks after an accident. To sort out the legal situation when an employee is injured at work and the employer is uninsured, injury victims should talk to a personal injury lawyer, and in the Houston area, they should consult an experienced Houston personal injury attorney.