California Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury

July 22, 2022 | Article by Chain | Cohn | Clark staff

California Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury

Accidents can occur anywhere, anytime. Although there are some circumstances where you might be more likely to get injured, you should always be on the lookout for hazards. Some citizens even find themselves in dangerous situations due to their occupations. Your legal rights will change if you become ill or injured while doing work-related activities.

There may even come a time when you have to decide whether to file a claim for personal injury or workers’ compensation, and your decision will have an impact. Join us as we review the similarities and differences between personal injury and workers’ compensation in California.

Workers’ Compensation in California

Workers’ compensation is a form of coverage for injured individuals on the job or performing work-related duties. All private companies in California are required by state law to purchase workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ compensation laws cover federal employees. All Californian workers should have some form of coverage.

Workers’ compensation benefits are paid on time and are very reliable. Employees understand how much they will receive and when they will receive it. Though this can be nice, it’s worth noting that workers’ comp benefits are limited to certain types and values. 

Workers’ compensation claims also have their own set of deadlines for when they must be reported to employers, when employers must report them, and when an employee must file a claim. 

Personal Injury in California

Personal injury law refers to one individual pursuing civil consequences against another individual who caused them an injury or illness. This can occur between two people or a person and an entity. The idea behind a personal injury claim is to compensate a victim for the expenses they would not have to face if an accident had not occurred. 

California follows a pure comparative negligence law which means that a person at fault in an accident can still recover damages even if they were found to be at fault. For example, if an individual is found to be 30% at fault, they will only be liable for 30% of the damages.

California Personal Injury vs. Workers’ Comp

Personal injury cases are much broader than workers’ compensation cases, require different evidence, have a different timeline, and offer different benefits. 

Scope of Workers’ Comp and Personal Injury Claims

While the nature of the injury does not limit workers’ comp claims, they are linked to work-related or workplace accidents. It does not matter if bones are broken, skin is burned, or someone is shocked; an employee can recover workers’ compensation. However, if they experience any of these injuries outside of work, they will be unable to file a workers’ compensation claim.

For personal injury victims, it does not matter whose time they were on or where they were. If someone else’s negligence harmed them, they would be eligible to file a claim. There are times when employees can file a personal injury claim for their work-related injury, which can result in more compensation. 

Proving Negligence

One of the significant differences between workers’ compensation and personal injury cases is the burden of proving fault. Workers’ comp insurance only requires you to prove that you didn’t cause the accident. For example, suppose you fall off a high platform. In that case, you must show that you did not fall off due to being drunk, did not purposely jump off, and did not blatantly disregard safety protocols. As long as you were not expressly responsible for your injuries, you will likely be able to recover workmen’s comp.

However, you must prove that the other party involved was negligent in personal injury cases. It is not enough to merely prove that you were not responsible. Suppose you want to recover the full compensation you are entitled to. In that case, you must present evidence demonstrating that the defendant’s actions—or inaction—would not have caused the accident. 

When you hire an attorney for one of these two situations, they will serve slightly different purposes. They both work toward the same goal—getting you your compensation. However, a workers’ compensation lawyer can assist you in recovering money from a reluctant employer or business by demonstrating that they are accountable under state law. A personal injury attorney will review the situation and work to prove fault while assessing your injuries’ value. 

California Statute of Limitations on Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury Settlements

Each state has rules on how long an individual can take legal action against another party. For personal injury lawsuits in California, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of the injury. After the two-year window expires, the defendant will have no legal obligation to provide you with compensation.

Workers’ compensation claims must be filed within one year of the accident or one year from the last time you were exposed to the conditions that led to a cumulative injury (one that develops over time). Additionally, employees must notify their employer within 30 days of realizing they have a work-related injury. When the employer is notified, they have 24 hours to return a claim form to the employee. 

Injury Benefits: Personal Accident Insurance vs. Workers’ Compensation

Now for the difference that matters, money. Workers’ compensation and personal injury cases do not pay out the same way. Under workers’ compensation coverage, you can receive the following benefits:

  • Coverage for medical bills
  • Funds for retraining if you are unable to return to your prior position
  • Temporary and permanent disability payments
  • Death benefits for loved ones

Under personal injury cases, you are eligible to receive a variety of compensatory damages. These cover economic and non-economic factors and include the following:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Property damages
  • Loss of consortium/companionship
  • Emotional suffering and trauma
  • Loss of quality of life
  • Travel expenses
  • Extended care costs
  • Money for physical or mental therapy
  • Any other reasonably related cost or expense

In addition to these damages, you may be rewarded with punitive damages if the defendant was grossly negligent. Punitive damages are intended to discourage the guilty party from doing what they are doing and can include large sums of money. 

There are limits to the amount of money you can recover from workers’ compensation. After the medical costs have been covered, workers’ comp benefits come primarily from temporary and permanent disability benefits. These weekly benefits are meant to cover lost wages but can only cover ⅔ of your average weekly earnings. In contrast, personal injury benefits can cover 100% of your lost earnings. Personal injury can also compensate you for multiple jobs if you cannot work them. In contrast, workers’ compensation benefits will only pay a fraction of the income for the job you got injured at. 

Personal Injury at Work

If you are injured at work, you can recover workers’ compensation benefits as long as you did not intentionally cause the accident. In some cases, you may even be eligible to recover civil damages when a third party is the primary cause of your injury or illness. A responsible third party could include the following:

  • Another driver on the road
  • A machine manufacturer
  • The owner of a company or building
  • A coworker

You can pursue personal injury damages If one of these entities is negligent in a way that causes harm to you. While personal injury benefits will be greater, they will be more challenging to obtain than workers’ comp benefits. Contemplate hiring legal counsel to advise you in this situation. 

Filing a Personal Injury Claim Against Your Employer

In general, you are not allowed to sue your employer for personal injury in California. Even though you may recover damages after a work injury, that usually comes from a third party.

However, there are some cases where you can file a claim against your employer. While they are rare exceptions, these situations fall under the scope of eligibility:

  • Dual capacity – If the employer has another role besides the employer and causes injury from that position, you might have a case against them. For example, if the employer also builds chairs and one of their chairs is defective and leads to your injury. They will not be protected from legal action for this injury simply because they are also your employer.
  • Employer assault – If your employer either assaults you or supports an assault on you, you will have a case for legal compensation.
  • Fraudulent concealment – The employer will not be protected if they cover up details related to an individual’s workplace injury, leading to more harm. 
  • Employer without insurance – If the employer does not have a workers’ compensation plan, you can hold them directly liable for your injuries.
  • Power press – Because so many individuals lose their hands in power press machines, you can sue your employer directly if power press guards are removed. This is a specific exception to the rule implemented to avoid these injuries.

You should note that even though these lawsuits are against your employer, they may not be considered workers’ compensation. Reach out to our legal team for help determining which type of claim you should file. 

Hire a Chain | Cohn | Clark Lawyer to Recover Compensation

Whether you are dealing with a workers’ compensation case or a regular personal injury claim, our experienced team of California injury attorneys is here to provide the necessary services you need. 

Don’t hesitate to reach out. We are here to help. Call (661) 334-4948 or fill out our online contact form today.