Workers who are injured on the job could be facing substantial medical expenses and significant lost hours at work. This decrease in income, combined with a rash of unexpected medical bills, might lead to a financial crisis. Fortunately, most people in Arkansas are protected through their workers’ compensation benefits. Many injured workers wonder if, since they are injured, do they have the basis for a personal injury claim in addition to their workers’ compensation benefits. Another common question is, “what is the difference between a personal injury lawsuit and workers’ compensation?”
Some people wrongly classify a workers’ compensation claim as a personal injury claim because both arise because of an injury. However, the two are very different. When filing a workers’ compensation claim, an injured employee only needs to show that they were hurt while engaged in the course of their employment. To prevail in a personal injury lawsuit, an injured worker must prove that another party was negligent and responsible for their injury. If you have been injured, you should call our Arkansas personal injury attorneys.
The requirement to demonstrate fault is only one of the many differences between a workers’ compensation claim and a personal injury lawsuit. Below, Ken Kieklak, Attorney at Law, discusses the differences in more detail. However, if you were injured while on the job, call our office at (479) 316-0438 to help apply for workers’ compensation and determine if you have the basis of a personal injury lawsuit.
Workers Compensation Claims Versus Personal Injury Lawsuits in Arkansas
When injuries occur during work hours, whether you should file a workers’ compensation claim or pursue a personal injury lawsuit depends on several factors. For example, if you were hurt in a slip and fall accident, you could have the basis for a personal injury claim, a workers’ compensation claim, or both.
The Right to Sue After a Work Injury in Arkansas
The first consideration and perhaps one of the most significant differences between workers’ compensation and a personal injury lawsuit is whether a hurt worker is entitled to file either claim.
Under Arkansas Workers’ Compensation law, an injured employee is generally prohibited from filing a personal injury lawsuit against their employer. This means, if you are injured while performing your job duties, you will have to file a workers’ compensation claim to receive financial benefits, including compensation for your medical expenses and lost income.
If you want to file a personal injury lawsuit, there usually needs to be a third party that could be held liable for your injuries. For example, if you were hurt at work because a piece of equipment malfunctioned, you could have a personal injury claim against the equipment manufacturer. Under certain circumstances, for example, if your employer did not carry workers’ compensation insurance or they intentionally harmed you, you could bring a personal injury claim against your employer. It is crucial to speak with one of our experienced Arkansas workers’ compensation attorneys to understand your rights.
Determining Fault in an Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Claim and Personal Injury Lawsuit
Another significant difference between personal injury lawsuits and workers’ compensation claims is that an injured worker is not required to prove anyone was at fault to receive benefits. Whether your injury was caused by another’s carelessness or was just an unfortunate accident, you are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if the accident occurred while you were working.
Personal injury lawsuits are substantially different. Nearly every personal injury claim is based on negligence. To successfully recover your damages in a civil suit, an injured worker must prove in court that another party’s negligence caused their injury. Legally, negligence is much more than carelessness or a mistake. A plaintiff in a personal injury case must demonstrate four elements to prove negligence: duty of care, breach of duty, causation, and damages. Proving these four elements requires supporting evidence. Additionally, there will be a defendant who will refute the evidence and claims presented. Our knowledgeable Bentonville personal injury attorneys will investigate the circumstances of your accident to determine if a third party could be held liable.
Procedural Differences Between Personal Injury Claims and Workers’ Compensation Claims in Arkansas
Personal injury lawsuits and workers’ compensation claims work very differently. In either case, the assistance of our dedicated Arkansas injury attorneys could prove invaluable. For example, our veteran workers’ compensation attorneys could help you avoid some common errors that result in a claim being rejected or assist in appealing a claim that has been denied. Our office will guide you through the complicated litigation process. No matter what path is available, it is crucial to understand the procedural differences between applying for benefits and filing a lawsuit.
Workers’ Compensation Claims
If you are hurt at work and want to file a workers’ compensation claim, you must first inform your employer that you were injured. You should do this immediately because any delay could jeopardize your benefits. For example, if you were involved in an accident on Friday afternoon and waited until Monday to report the incident, your employer’s insurance provider could contend that your injuries occurred over the weekend and away from the workplace.
Once you have informed your employer, you both will have to complete some paperwork and forms to begin the process of filing for benefits. Your claim will be filed with your employer’s insurance provider. The insurance company will have its own procedural process to follow. This could include requesting additional information or undergoing another medical examination by a physician employed or recommended by the insurance company.
Once all the forms and requested information is submitted, the insurance company will evaluate and investigate your claim. If the insurance approves your claim, it could determine what doctors you see and what treatments are approved. However, if your claim is denied, you have the right to appeal your case.
While one of the benefits of a workers’ compensation claim is that the procedure is relatively quick, having our experienced Fayetteville workers’ compensation attorneys on your side could eliminate many of the common mistakes claimants make.
Personal Injury Lawsuits
If you are going to file a personal injury lawsuit, the first thing you should do is hire our experienced Arkansas personal injury attorneys. Once your attorney has evaluated your case and has conducted a preliminary investigation of your claim, a complaint will be drafted and filed in civil court. This is the official beginning of your case.
Copies of the complaint will also have to be served on all the defendants in the case. At this point, the defense will file an answer to your complaint. The next step is the discovery process. During this phase, both sides can demand information and documents from the opposing party, including official requests for documents, interrogatories, and depositions. The purpose of discovery is to gain additional evidence to strengthen your case.
It is possible that the defendant will attempt to settle the case outside of court – especially if the evidence is strongly in your favor. The defendant’s insurance company could try to negotiate a settlement agreement that all parties find reasonable. If a number cannot be agreed upon or if a settlement was never offered, the case will proceed to court.
Unlike a workers’ compensation claim, a personal injury case could take many months or years. The length of your lawsuit depends on numerous factors, including the severity of your injuries, the type of accident, the number of defendants, and the complexities of the legal issues involved.
Damages in Available Through Arkansas Workers Comp Benefits and a Personal Injury Claim
Whether you file a personal injury lawsuit or a workers’ compensation claim, the ultimate goal is the same. You are seeking financial compensation for the injuries and damages you suffered.
Workers’ Compensation Benefits
An injured worker is entitled to medical treatment. Initially, Arkansas workers’ compensation benefits provide employees with full medical coverage. This means that a person’s benefits will cover more than just doctor’s bills. A hurt employee should recover the associated costs of medical treatment, such as medication, hospitalization, diagnostic tests, and other expenses. However, the employer’s liability ends six months after the injury occurs if the employee did not miss any time at work or six months after the employee returned to work. There is also a $10,000 limit on medical benefits.
Injured workers are also entitled to recover lost wages. If an employee is found to qualify for temporary total disability (TTD) benefits, they will receive two-thirds of the regular salary. These benefits will begin after a seven-day waiting period. If a worker is out of work for more than fourteen days, they will be compensated for the initial seven days. Currently, the weekly lost wage benefits are capped at $522 and are limited to 450 weeks.
If an injured worker qualifies for permanent total disability (PTD) benefits, they will receive two-thirds of their weekly salary, capped at $522, for the length of their disability.
It is important to note that under Arkansas workers’ compensation benefits, an injured employee cannot recover from their pain and suffering. Our Fort Smith workers’ compensation attorneys will work to maximize your benefits.
Personal Injury Lawsuits
Personal injury lawsuits allow injured workers to recover some similar damages that are available through a workers’ compensation claim. An employee is entitled to seek full compensation for the medical expenses, both past, and future. One advantage of a personal injury lawsuit is that your employer’s insurance company does not dictate your medical treatment.
Lost wages are not capped in a personal injury claim. If you missed work because of your injury or your earning capacity has been diminished, you could be fully compensated for your lost income. This compensation includes any future income you would have earned if you are permanently disabled.
In addition to their financial losses, an injured worker could recover their non-economic damages. Non-economic damages include subjective harm, such as pain and suffering, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mental anguish. Non-economic damages could be significant depending on the severity and impact of your injury.
While only rarely awarded, a person could recover punitive damages in a personal injury lawsuit. Punitive damages are not based on the injury but are awarded to punish a defendant when their conduct is grossly negligent or malicious. Both punitive and non-economic damages are not available through workers’ compensation benefits.
Another important distinction between the compensation awarded through workers’ comp benefits and a personal injury lawsuit is when an injured employee will receive payment. Workers’ compensation benefits are usually available within a few days or immediately following the prescribed waiting period. On the other hand, receiving compensation through a lawsuit could take months or even years. There is also the possibility that a personal injury lawsuit will not be successful. It is crucial to discuss the benefits and potential hazards of filing your case with a Farmington, AR personal injury attorney.
Financial Responsibility for Workers’ Compensation Benefits and Personal Injury Awards
Another difference between personal injury claims and workers’ compensation is the party that has the financial obligation to pay the employee’s damages. When an injured employee files a workers’ comp claim, their employer’s insurance company will pay the damages up to the statutory maximum.
In a personal injury lawsuit, the defendant will be legally liable to compensate the plaintiff. Typically, the damages will be paid by the defendant’s insurance company. While an individual is entitled to significantly more damages through a personal injury claim, the total award will be restricted by any insurance policy limits.
Contact Our Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Attorneys to Review Your Options
Working is often dangerous. If you are hurt while working, you have options. In Arkansas, you are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits to pay for your medical costs and reimburse you for your lost wages. In some cases, an injured person could have a viable personal injury claim. Ken Kieklak, Attorney at Law, has represented workers seeking workers’ compensation benefits or personal injury settlements. While there are substantial differences between the two, having our experienced Huntsville workers’ compensation attorneys at your side will increase your odds of success no matter what direction you choose. Call (479) 316-0438 to review your options and legal rights.