When can I sue my employer for a work-related injury?

Generally, when employees suffer an injury or illness arising out of employment, they're exclusive remedy under the law is to collect workers' compensation benefits-regardless of whether the employee or employer was at fault.

However, in exchange for these benefits, employees generally relinquish the right to pursue a lawsuit against their employers in a court of law. This "compensation bargain," as it's referred to, allows employees to obtain benefits relatively quickly but also protects employers from high litigation costs, pain and suffering, and punitive damages.

Like other areas of law, there are exceptions to this rule. In certain cases, employees are allowed to side-step the workers' compensation system and pursue a cause of action against their employers for damages.

The opportunity to go outside the workers' compensation system and sue employers for a work-related injury or illness will, however, vary by jurisdiction.

Side-stepping the workers' compensation system in Illinois

In Illinois, employees can file a lawsuit against their employer if the employer commits an intentional act toward an employee that results in injury or illness to that employee.

Additionally, an employee in Illinois may also be able to pursue a cause of action against an employer for injuries or illness that occurred at work if an employer (mandated by law) failed to procure the necessary workers' compensation insurance.

An employer's bad faith processing of a workers' compensation application is another situation that could potentially allow an employee in Illinois to side-step the system and sue an employer for work-related injuries or illnesses in a court of law.

These incidences, however, all depend on specific circumstances.

A cause of action against third parties

It's important to also note that, although the workers' compensation system is an exclusive remedy for most employees in the event of an injury or illness at work, employees may have a cause of action against third parties whose negligence caused the injury or illness.

For instance, if an employee was injured from a defective product, he or she may be able to pursue a product liability cause of action against the manufacturer of the product.

Another example involves an employee who is injured or suffers an illness at work due to exposure from a toxic substance, like asbestos. That employee could sue the maker of the product.

Seeking the advice of a workers' compensation attorney

The exceptions, limitations and procedures of workers' compensation are complex. If you have questions about your work-related injury or illness and whether you can pursue a civil action outside of the system and against whom, speaking with a workers' compensation attorney knowledgeable in this area of law is advised.