You Can?t Sue Your Employer for an Injury in Georgia
No injury suits, no pain and suffering: Workers’ comp is the only remedy
on December 11, 2018
Updated on May 16, 2022
Typically, if you are injured in an accident caused by someone else's negligence, you have a constitutional and legal right to sue that party for damages. Such personal injury claims may seek to recover not only the immediate financial losses caused by the injury, such as your medical bills and lost wages, but also your “pain and suffering” and other non-economic damages.
But with a workplace injury, the rules are different. Let's say you break your arm in a workplace accident that was caused by the negligence of your employer or even a coworker. “Except under the most limited of circumstances, you can’t sue your employer for negligence after a work injury,” says T. Andrew Miller, a workers’ comp and personal injury attorney in Atlanta.
“If you get hurt at work, you can summon your employer before an administrative law judge to address workers’ comp benefits and issues, but you cannot sue them for negligence. Workers’ comp is the exclusive remedy in Georgia.”
The Workers' Compensation “Bargain”
With few exceptions, any employer with more than three employees is required by Georgia law to carry workers’ compensation coverage. It is effectively a bargain between the employer and the employee. In exchange for not suing the employer for a work-related injury, the injured employee receives a certain amount of benefits. These benefits are provided regardless of fault. In other words, even if the accident was the result of your own negligence, or fault simply cannot be attributed to anyone, you still get paid.
Of course, there are some exceptions. If you show up for work drunk, stumble around, fall and injure yourself, your employer is not responsible for your medical treatment costs. Similarly, if you commit some act of “willful misconduct” that leads to your accident, the employer is not liable under workers' compensation benefits.
It should also be noted that workers' compensation only provides medical care and income benefits. Your employer does not have to compensate you for pain and suffering or any other intangible injury. And the amount and length of the benefits you receive is strictly governed by state law.
Playing the role of middle man to the insurance company and your employer isn’t ideal, and that’s where attorneys like Miller come in. You’re not accustomed to dealing with insurers, and insurance companies may take advantage of that.
“Workers’ comp is a minefield for injured workers,” Miller says. “It’s very technical and complicated. In order to fully protect yourself, you’ll need an advisor.” Workers’ comp attorneys work to maximize the amount you are deserved, and are paid a percentage of your settlement after you win. “We don’t get paid until you do.”
You cannot sue your employer just because you think your benefits should be higher. However, if your employer denies what you believe to be a valid workers' compensation claim, you do have the right to take action with the Georgia State Board of Workers' Compensation and its internal trial-and-appeal process.
Workers' Compensation and Third-Party Personal Injury Claims
Workers' compensation may limit your options for seeking damages against your employer or coworkers. But what if your work-related accident was caused by a third party independent of your employer?
“An example would be a pizza delivery guy who gets rear-ended by a random person,” Miller says. “He’d have a workers’ comp claim to cover lost wages and medical, and then a negligence or tort claim against the person that hit him. So you’ll be dealing with a workers’ comp insurance company and an auto insurance company. Because that third-party person isn’t part of the employer, they aren’t immune from a suit.”
But there is an important caveat here. If you successfully sue a third party, your employer may have the right to recover some of your damages award as reimbursement for the benefits you already received under workers' compensation. This is called a “subrogation lien,” and it only applies once you are “fully compensated” for your injury.
If you have any additional questions about how this works, you should contact a qualified Georgia workers' compensation attorney right away. If you'd like to know more about this area, read our workers' compensation law overview.