The purpose of workers’ compensation insurance is to provide restitution to employees who are injured on the job for their medical expenses and lost wages relating to that injury. In exchange for the compensation, the employee agrees not to sue the employer for work-related negligence. The employer, in turn, must guarantee employment in an equal position at the company upon return from medical leave. If either party breaches the workers’ compensation contract, however, a lawsuit may be filed in civil court.
An Alabama man did just this because he felt that his employer did not honor that contract. He asserted that he was fired under false pretenses in retaliation for his claim. A jury sided with the man and awarded him both compensatory and punitive damages. Upon appeal by the defendant, the Court of Civil Appeals overturned the jury verdict stating that the employee did not present adequate proof that he was terminated in retaliation for filing the claim. The appeals process ultimately landed the case in the Alabama Supreme Court where the Appeals Court verdict was overturned. After reviewing the case, the high court felt that the employee presented strong enough evidence to establish his case and the employer was unable to prove that the man was fired for a legitimate reason.
This case underscores the importance of fighting for your rights. Just because you accepted payments for a workers’ compensation claim does not mean that you entirely forfeit your right to sue. There are extenuating circumstances that warrant a lawsuit: retaliatory termination, OSHA violations and failure of the employer to repair known hazards, to name but a few. If you have been injured while on the job, you may want to speak with an attorney regarding your legal options.
Source: Workerscompensation.com, “Alabama Supreme Court Reverses Court of Civil Appeals’ Decision in Retaliatory Discharge Case,” National Workers Compensation Defense Network, July 8, 2013.