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Can I File Suit Against My Employer After a Workplace Injury?

Imagine your boss told you to climb up an old, rickety ladder to change a lightbulb. You protested, saying that the ladder was old and dangerous, but your boss insisted. Long story short, the ladder collapsed and you broke your leg.

If something like this happened to you, you're probably feeling wronged -- as if your employer forced you to do something that was unreasonably dangerous. You might also be wondering if you can sue your employer for personal injury damages instead of filing a workers' compensation claim.

You cannot normally sue your employer for on-the-job injuries

The Iowa workers' compensation system and associated laws protect employers from facing lawsuits for general negligence after an employee gets hurt. In most cases, the law protects employers from personal injury claims because employees who have workers' compensation coverage have essentially given up their right to sue in exchange for workers' compensation benefits.

In this sense, workers' compensation is a "no-fault system." The only thing that matters are two primary questions: (1) Did you suffer an injury that requires medical care and/or prevents you from working? (2) Did your injury happen while you were working?

If the injury happened because you were careless, it doesn't matter. If the injury happened because your boss was careless, it doesn't matter. In nearly every case of an on-the-job injury or illness, you can pursue workers' compensation benefits regardless of fault. Nevertheless, it's a trade-off because it means you can only rarely sue your employer.

Cases when you can sue your employer

In some cases, however, you might be able to sue your employer directly for damages -- especially if you can prove that your employer intentionally caused you to get hurt. Here are some circumstances that could lead to an employee suing his or her employer after an injurious on-the-job event:

  • Fraud: Your employer lied to you and you suffered an injury as a result.
  • Defamation: Your employer made false statements about you and it resulted in harm.
  • Invasion of privacy: Your employer hurt you by invading your privacy and sharing your photographs or other information with others.
  • False imprisonment: Your employer held you and confined you without authority and against your wishes.
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress: Your employer has acted in a terrible fashion toward you that has resulted in emotional trauma.
  • Battery: Your employer or coworker physically attacked you and hurt you.
  • Assault: Your employer or coworker attempted to hurt you or threatened to hurt you.

Understand the law before you try to sue your employer

Perhaps your employer knowingly lied to you, and said that a ladder was perfectly safe. Perhaps your employer knew that other employees had fallen and hurt themselves on the ladder in the past, but your employer lied and said that there was nothing wrong with the ladder. This might be a case of fraud that led to your injury, and it might warrant a personal injury lawsuit.

The cases when you can sue your employer for an on-the-job injury are sporadic. However, if you can sue, the potential for financial recovery could be higher than the financial benefits associated with a traditional workers' compensation claim.