Can I sue my employer for negligence?

Clients injured at work often ask me: in addition to my workers’ compensation benefits, may I sue my employer for negligence?

The answer, in most cases, is no.

Why? Because most state have adopted what is called “the exclusivity rule.”

This rule limits an injured employee’s legal recourse solely to workers’ compensation. The fact that the employer may have been negligent is irrelevant. The justification for this rule lies deeply within the genesis of workers’ compensation law.

Before the advent of workers’ compensation, pursuing a negligence claim against the employer was the only remedy available to employees who suffered on the job injuries. This state of affairs resulted in uncertain relief for the employee (because she had to prove negligence) and, in most cases , intolerable expense for the employer.

Workers’ compensation systems killed two birds with one stone. The new law abolished the need to prove negligence thus making it “easier” for the injured employee to garner benefits, and it reduced employers’ legal expenses by streamlining the adjudicatory process. Among other things, evidentiary requirements were relaxed, and juries were replaced by commissioners.

The new law, which made its debut early in the twentieth century, also served as a partial palliative to the general labor unrest indicative of industrial and labor relations at the time.