Pursuing a workers’ compensation claim against your employer is the right way to go when you sustain an injury at your workplace. However, making this claim may bar you from suing your employer for the occupational injury. The Workers Compensation Attorney Group in Orange County, CA, can help you find a way to take legal action against your employer. The following explains how we can help you proceed with the lawsuit.

Does the California Law Allow You (the Injury Victim) to Sue Your Employer Instead?

As the injury victim, the California constitution only allows you to recover workers’ compensation benefits. Thus, you may not sue your employer in a California civil court. A workers’ compensation lawyer can help you understand the five exceptions for suing your employer for an occupational injury. They are as follows:

  • Your injury was caused by an improperly installed power press machine pursuant to Labor Code 4558

  • Your injury was caused by an improperly installed power press machine pursuant to Labor Code 4558

  • Your employer did not obtain workers’ compensation insurance as required under Labor Code 3706

  • A work-related factor aggravated your injury, but your employer is fraudulently concealing it

  • Your employer physically assaulted you with intent to injure you

The workers’ compensation system in California does not require employees to blame their injuries to their employers. Employers, on the other hand, are mandated to obtain workers’ compensation insurance for their employees to recover timely benefits when injured at work. They are also supposed to pay the insurance policy costs. Their insurance companies are responsible for paying all workers’ compensation benefits to the injured workers.

When your employer's actions do not comply with the workplace policies and you were injured in the process, the workers' compensation system will not apply. As the employee, it is your right to take legal action against the employer in a local civil court. Through your lawyer, you will have to prove the wrongdoings of your employer; though the potential payout for this suit is greater, you will have a more substantial burden of proof.

Injury Resulting From an Employer's Intentional Acts

You may sustain an injury from a willful physical assault initiated by your employer. Under California's workers' compensation law, a work-related injury is usually regarded as "accidental." The injury might not be defined under this law if it was caused by a deliberate and conscious intent directed to you by the employer. A California civil court will expect you to prove that the employer intended to inflict an injury.

What If Your Employer Instructed Another Worker to Physically Assault You?

If the physical assault was initiated by your coworker, you should pursue a suit against the employee. Your lawyer should prove ratification, which links your employer to authorizing the assault. In this case, the suit against your employer will be pursued as if the assault was caused by the employer. If you fail to prove ratification, it would be impossible to sue the employer since they are not liable for actions conducted by their employees.

How Can the Respondeat Superior Doctrine Help You When Assaulted by a Coworker?

The Respondeat Superior doctrine can help you sue a co-worker who assaulted you. This law will only work when the co-worker acted within the required limits of his/her employment. You may also rely on it when the employee’s actions helped further your employer’s business objective (a legitimate one). Apart from proof that your employer authorized the assault, you will also provide proof of the injury you suffered.

Several cases exist where the physical force (which may lead to assault) is part of a person's job duties. Examples of workers with this requirement in their occupation include sports coaches, nightclub bouncers, security guards, and professional athletes. Though the application of physical force may be within a person's scope of employment, it is not a valid excuse for assault.

The damages you can recover from suing for a co-worker's assault include lost wages and medical bills. Others include pain and suffering, emotional distress and psychological counseling. You can also recover punitive damages from the employer. An award for punitive damages focuses on deterring others from acting recklessly and punishing reckless wrongdoers.

Injury Triggered by Fraudulent Concealment

Fraudulent concealment may be the cause of your injury if you were exposed to various conditions, which the employer knew but failed to disclose to you. You may sustain the injury from working in an environment with hazardous chemicals. Your lawyer can base the lawsuit on this factor if you sustained an injury or illness from the conditions. The employer will be committing fraud if they fail to inform you about the dangers of the work environment.

Since the employer would have committed fraud, you can sue them in a civil court. Employers do not necessarily have to hide information about unsafe work conditions for them to commit fraudulent concealment. Their knowledge of the existence of the hazard or danger is enough to prove your case. Keeping quiet about the matter is an instance of fraudulent concealment.

What are the Elements of a Typical Fraudulent Concealment Case?

Your case may suffice as a fraudulent concealment one if you were unknowingly worked in an environment with harmful chemicals. You may also base it along these lines if you were aware of the chemicals but not their harmful effects. Your employer may partake in the fraud by intentionally hiding these facts for you not to link your injury or illness to them. Exposure to substances such as chemicals, solvents, arsenic or asbestos at work may help form a basis for this case.

Your injury or illness may motivate you to pursue a workers’ compensation claim even if information about its cause was concealed by the employer. The injury may be considered as an aggravated one since the employer knew its cause and the injury itself but choose to conceal this information. Continued exposure to harmful work conditions and lack of knowledge may prevent you from seeking treatment and stopping further exposure.

Pursuant to Assembly Bill 1901, the following details are required when basing your lawsuit on the fraudulent-concealment doctrine:

  • Your name and the defendant's name while stating the relationship between the two of you

  • A declaration statement highlighting that the defendant willfully failed to have specific facts disclosed to you

  • A statement confirming that you were not aware of the concealed facts

  • Proof of injury or illness

  • A statement confirming that the defendant's choice to conceal the facts was a significant factor in causing your injury or illness

Injury Resulting from Dual Capacity

Pursuant to Labor Code 3602 b(3), a worker’s death or injury may stem from a defective product made by an employer and provided to the worker for use. The product may be transferred, leased or sold to the worker by an independent party. You can sue your employer for an injury sustained from a defective product made by them and transferred, sold or leased to you for use.

Your suit against the employer may not be accepted if you were fixing a defective product owned by a third party but made by your employer. In this case, your injury may be sustained from working on the product instead of using it. The basis for making pursuing a dual capacity suit against your lawyer is when you assume the role of a customer instead of an employee.

How Can the Dual-Capacity Doctrine Work in Your Favor?

California workers’ compensation statute bars you (the employee) from suing your current employer for an illness or injury suffered at work. Your best hope to pursuing this suit is by relying on the dual-capacity doctrine. Under this doctrine, your employer is assumed to have occupied the duties that are not covered under your employee-employer relationship. The duties (capacities) may include manufacturer, vendor or distributor of defective products.

For you to sue your employer under the dual-capacity doctrine, they must have acted in a capacity other than the usual one. The underlying logic here is that a breach of duty by the employer is owed to all members of the public including the injured employee. The dual-capacity focuses on how the employer’s second function results in the employee’s suffering (sustaining an illness or injury).

What is Your Employer is the Vendor of the Defective Goods?

The dual-capacity doctrine can apply to your case when a vendor-vendee relationship exists between you and the employer. The employer should be the sole supplier or seller of the goods or services that caused your injury. Your employer's persona when playing the role of both vendor and employer also has to be different.

Injury Caused by a Power Press

A power press works as a machine used to manufacture other products as defined under Labor Code 4558. The machine is designed to form materials, which are in turn converted into other products. Power press machines come with an operation guard point to minimize the exposure to injuries on your hand and limb. You may sustain injuries from a power press without a guard installed on it.

What are the Safety Precautions Regarding the Use of Power Presses

Thousands of work-related accidents caused by power presses every year can be mitigated through safe work practices. California's Department of Industrial Relations urges employers to offer adequate training to their respective employees on inspecting and maintaining these machines. Employers also need to train the operators on how to use these machines safely and offer adequate supervision for the safety measures to be followed.

In California, laws on power press safety are covered in Section 4189 through Section 4216 of the General Industry Safety Orders. Sections 4202 and 4203 of the safety orders state the requirements for inspecting machines and having operators trained on safety measures. These regulations highlight the various kinds of sensing devices and guards needed on power presses. Procedures involving cleaning, servicing, adjusting or setting up power processes should be conducted pursuant to the General Industry Safety Order 3314.

The safety precautions for operating power presses include:

  • Having a dual interlock safety system installed to allow the moving parts of the machine to stop when you are using it

  • Using two separate pushbutton switches as an instance of a two-handed operation

  • Having the power press serviced regularly

  • Developing strict but safe operating procedures after consulting with health and safety practitioners and employees

  • Training qualified setters, technicians and operators on how to test-run or check the machine several times prior to using it

  • Placing visible signs near or on the machine as a way of alerting employees of the potential hazards of operating it

If your employer knew that the guard was missing on the power press and you are injured while using it, you can sue them. Your lawsuit will be based on your employer’s mistake of removing or failing to install operation guards on the machine. It is difficult to stop large mechanical motors while they are running without the guards. You will also be putting yourself at risk of facing severe injuries if you try using them.

What Should Your Employer Know?

Your employer’s duty is to know about the installation of operation guards on large mechanical machines. One way they can know this information is through the manufacturer. You can sue them if they fail to have the guards installed. They may also be subject to your suit if they removed the guards or told someone else to remove them.

Risks Associated with the Operation of Power Presses

Operating a high-risk machine such as a power press without safety guards installed can expose you to various risks. Your fingers, arms or wrists may be trapped in the equipment, resulting in amputation or bone fractures. You may also lose an entire hand or end up disabled from the accident.

The Employer Did not Have Workers’ Compensation Insurance

Labor Code 3706 makes it mandatory for all employers to obtain workers’ compensation insurance. Under this law, injured employees can sue them if they do not have the insurance policy. Workers’ compensation insurance is meant to facilitate the recovery of compensatory damages, which are awarded to injured employees.

What is Workers’ Compensation Insurance?

Workers’ compensation insurance is a no-fault insurance policy against occupational illnesses and injuries. The California Division of Workers’ Compensation is the administrative body overseeing workers’ compensation claims in California. The state agency also runs the workers’ compensation court system, which resolves any disputes arising from the recovery of benefits. Before any claims are filed to this body, the employer must have the insurance policy.

Though sole proprietors are not covered by the insurance policy, they can vote to be covered. Other individuals included in the coverage include executive officers, directors, partners, LLC members, and employees. Workers' compensation coverage offers various benefits for occupational illnesses or injuries. The benefits include death benefits, supplemental job displacement benefits, temporary disability benefits, and medical care.

Your employer must take the following actions when you get hurt or sick on the job:

  • Offer you a form for filing a workers’ compensation claim within one (working) day after reporting the illness or injury

  • Give you a copy of the form you completed within one day of receiving it

  • Follow up on your complete Medical Provider Network (MPN) notification and initial medical evaluation (administered by an MPN physician) if you are covered by an MPN

  • Forward your claim form to California claims administrator along with a report of your illness or injury within one day of receiving it

  • Authorize a payment (of up to $10,000) for appropriate medical treatment with one day of receipt of your claim

  • Offer you light duty or transitional work when appropriate

  • Notify you of your eligibility for workers’ compensation if you sustained an injury from a crime that took place at work

How Can You Tell When Your Employer Did not Obtain the Insurance Policy?

Pursuant to Labor Code 3550, employers are mandated to have provided their workers with contact information to use in case they sustain an occupational injury. You (the worker) also have the right to inquire about details such as contact information and the name of the workers' compensation insurer. When contacted, the insurer should confirm the coverage. You can recover workers' compensation benefits and sue your employer for failing to have the coverage when injured.

The Uninsured Employers Benefits Trust Fund may be involved in awarding benefits to you when you make a workers' compensation claim against an uninsured employer. As a state agency, the Uninsured Employers Benefits Trust Fund helps you recover the benefits in time. Your lawyer should take you through the steps for pursuing an injury claim with the UEBTF.

Types of Damages You Can Recover From Suing Your Employer

You can recover compensatory and punitive damages in a lawsuit against your employer for an occupational sickness or injury. Compensatory damages help compensate you for losses suffered while punitive ones help punish the recklessness of the defendant. Discussed below are the examples of these types of benefits.

  1. Compensatory Damages

    Compensatory damages recovered for an occupational injury or illness fall into two categories (economic and non-economic damages). Economic damages constitute benefits you can readily attach a dollar amount. Your reason for seeking them is to cover losses you incurred on medical bills, lost wages and lost earning capacity.

    Since non-economic damages do not cover out-of-pocket expenses you incurred on an injury, they cannot be attached to any dollar amount. They may constitute subjective losses including pain and suffering, disfigurement and physical impairment. You can also seek them for losses such as loss of life enjoyment, emotional distress, and inconvenience.

    Expect to be awarded compensatory damages based on the type of legal claim, the severity of your illness or injury, your earning capacity and your age. Pieces of evidence required to prove your losses include receipts for the out-pocket expenses and information regarding your income. You may also present statements from your relatives or counseling records demonstrating the emotional impact the illness or injury had on you.

  2. Punitive Damages

    Pursuant to Civil Code 3294, plaintiffs subjected to malice, fraud or oppression to recover punitive damages, which are also referred to as exemplary damages. Rather than being based on your losses, these damages are based on the defendant’s reprehensibility and ability to pay. They are also awarded as a form of punishment to a defendant whose intentional and extremely reckless actions led to someone else’s injury.

    While asking for an award of punitive damages, your request does not have to specify a particular amount. Awards for these damages are usually determined in proceedings focused on holding defendants liable for their negligence or recklessness. A jury will consider the defendant’s reprehensibility and financial condition when deciding whether to award you the amount. The jury will also assess whether the harm you suffered can be attached to a dollar amount.

    There are no limitations on the amounts you can recover as punitive damages in California. However, under the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution, the Due Process Clause discourages the imposition of highly arbitrary or excessive punishments. Regardless of the amount, punitive damages are intended to punish both companies and individuals engaging in bad behavior.

Find a Workers’ Compensation Attorney Near Me

A workers' compensation attorney comes handy when your employer refuses your injury claim or fails to obtain workers' compensation insurance. You may also need legal assistance if the settlement offer covers a small portion of your medical bills or lost wages. The Workers Compensation Attorney Group is at your service when you need help recovering both compensatory and punitive damages. We understand the challenges faced by you or your loved one after sustaining a work-related injury or illness.

Allow us to help you recover the losses suffered when coping with an occupational injury or sickness. We can take you through the workers’ compensation system applicable in Orange County, CA. Our passion is to help clients like you find justice and have peace of mind throughout the whole process. Secure a free consultation about workers compensation with us by calling 562-485-9694.