Can I Sue My Employer for Negligence?

If you were injured on the job in Georgia, you may be wondering what your options are. Can you sue your employer?

Unfortunately, the answer is no.

However, unlike in many other states, proof of negligence is no longer necessary for a successful workers’ compensation claim in Georgia. In fact, it’s a near guarantee of workers’ compensation benefits should you get injured on the job while doing something you were supposed to be doing.

But there’s a catch: the exclusive remedy doctrine.

What Is the Exclusive Remedy Doctrine?

The exclusive remedy doctrine, found in O.C.G.A. § 34-9-11, mandates that an employee maintains their right to receive workers’ compensation benefits from their employer should they be injured on the job, regardless of fault. As long as you were doing what you were supposed to doing: not intoxicated, under the influence of drugs, or engaging in reckless actions, you have a valid workers' compensation claim.

According to a special contribution document published in 1996 by Robert R. Potter and Joan T.A. Gabel, “The integrity of the exclusive remedy doctrine is the key to maintaining a fundamentally sound and equitable workers’ compensation system.”

It was in that same paper that Potter and Gabel brought forth one of the many challenges that the exclusive remedy doctrine has faced. The bad faith cause of action arose, and the Court held that “a physical injury caused by willful and wanton cessation of workers’ compensation benefits circumvents the exclusive remedy doctrine and gives rise to a tort action.”

In another more recent case, the Georgia Court of Appeals found that “The test [for determining whether a person is an employee or an independent contractor] is not whether the employer did in fact control and direct the employee in the work, but it is whether the employer had that right under the employment contract.”

The exclusive remedy doctrine makes it clear that an employee may receive only workers’ compensation from their employer in the event of an injury. That leaves room for some exceptions.

Exceptions to the Exclusive Remedy Doctrine

Though you are barred from bringing a negligence claim against your employer/co-worker, you can bring a negligence claim in addition to your workers’ comp claim against a third party. What does this mean? If your injuries were caused by the negligence of a third party, such as a person or company outside of your present employer, you may be able to pursue compensation from them as well. This is called a third-party claim.

The most common third-party claims occur when workers are driving on the job and get into a car wreck caused by another person. If you suffer injuries, you have a workers' compensation claim against your employer and their insurer, as well as the negligent driver that was responsible and at fault for the serious car accident.

Workers’ Comp Claim vs. Negligence Claim

A workers' compensation claim and a negligence claim are two different things. The moment you are injured on the job, you have a workers' compensation claim against your employer. You may also have a negligence claim if someone else caused your injuries, which often leads to a greater financial recovery than you can get in the workers' compensation claim, as there are more damages recoverable in a personal injury negligence claim. If you have both claims, an attorney can help you successfully pursue both claims.

Wondering if you have a third-party negligence claim in addition to your workers' compensation claim? Contact Kaleita Law Firm, LLC to discuss your case with our Atlanta workers' comp lawyer.
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