If you have been injured on the job, you may be asking yourself, “Can I sue my employer for negligence?” In Illinois, the answer is “No” in most cases because of the workers’ compensation system.
Prior to 1902, if you were injured on the job in the United States, the only legal means that you had to obtain compensation was to sue your employer. That year, however, Maryland enacted the nation’s first statewide workers’ compensation law. By 1949, every other state had followed suit, including Illinois.
These workers’ compensation laws created a no-fault system of benefits for workers and their employers. Standard workers’ compensation benefits for eligible work injuries in Illinois typically include the following:
- Payment of bills for reasonable, related medical treatment;
- Temporary Total Disability payments, usually equal to two-thirds of a worker’s gross average weekly wage; and
- Permanent Partial Disability benefits, intended to compensate for the permanent nature of a worker’s injuries.
At the same time, however, the workers’ compensation system offers limited liability protection for employers. As a result, under current Illinois workers’ compensation law, injured workers are not able to sue their employers for their work injuries in most cases, regardless of negligence. And because these workers cannot sue their employers for negligence, they cannot receive damages for pain and suffering.
That said, there are three limited exceptions to this prohibition against suing employers for work injuries. In Illinois, an injured worker may sue his or her employer for injuries caused by the employer’s negligence under the following circumstances:
- The Worker Does Not Qualify as an Employee – Under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, certain categories of workers are not classified as employees, including real-estate brokers, broker-salespeople, commission-only salespeople, and some short-term agricultural workers. If workers in these categories are injured on the job, they may sue their employers under traditional theories of negligence.
- The Employer Does Not Have Insurance – Illinois requires employers to have workers’ compensation insurance, regardless of the number of employees on staff. If, however, the employer has not purchased adequate insurance, an injured worker may sue the employer for negligence in civil court.
- The Employer Intentionally Injures the Worker – This scenario is extremely rare and usually only comes into play when a worker is assaulted on the job. Even in cases where the employer was grossly negligent – for example, by failing to repair equipment that was known to have been broken for an extended period of time – the injured employee must still seek financial compensation through the workers’ compensation system. Only when the employer explicitly intends to cause injury to the employee can the employee pursue a lawsuit.
Barring these exceptions, however, injured workers cannot sue their employers for negligence in Illinois and cannot be compensated for any pain and suffering from their work injuries.
If I Cannot Sue My Employer, How Can I Protect My Workers’ Compensation Rights?
While you are largely unable to sue your employer in Illinois, you may still be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if you are injured on the job in most cases. To help ensure that you receive the benefits to which you are entitled, you might consider enlisting the services of an experienced attorney, such as the Chicago workers’ compensation attorneys at GWC Injury Lawyers.
With over $2 Billion recovered for our clients and offices throughout the state, GWC is Illinois’ largest Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury law firm.