Personal Injury vs. Workers’ Comp – What’s the Difference?

Tarun Sridharan Legal Editor & Attorney Contributor Read Time: 3 minutes

Personal Injury vs. Workers’ Comp – What’s the Difference?

Workers that get hurt on the job may not be sure about their next steps. Is filing a personal injury lawsuit required or does workers’ compensation cover all expenses?

If you find yourself in this situation and want to know what is the difference between personal injury and workers’ compensation, here are the facts.

The Major Difference is Fault

The most important difference between the two is that a personal injury claim is associated with the fault and negligence of another party, while workers’ comp is not.

For example, in order to recover damages from someone for a slip and fall, a dog bite, a vehicle accident, medical malpractice, or any other type of personal injury claim, you must show that the other person was negligent or at fault in some way.

If you fell on someone else’s property because you were looking at your phone and tripped or you caused a car accident because you were texting, these events do not qualify another person as negligent.

With some limited exceptions, an employee who is injured on the job or suffers illness due to working conditions is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. It is irrelevant whether the fault was due to a coworker error, negligence, or even because of something done incorrectly on your own part. There is no need to prove why the accident happened or who is at fault to receive your workers’ comp benefits.

What’s the Difference Between Eligible Damages?

Personal injury and workers’ comp claims also differ in terms of damages you are eligible to receive. The latter does not entitle you to benefits for pain and suffering, but personal injury lawsuits allow you to sue in order to recover all of the damages you have suffered. Lost wages, lost earning capacity, medical expenses, future medical expenses, permanent disability, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, etc. is all permissible when you file a personal injury lawsuit.

Workers’ comp only allows you to receive weekly compensation, permanent impairment benefits, medical bills, and vocational rehabilitation. Pain and suffering is not part of these benefits because the concept of workers’ comp is a tradeoff between labor and business owners. Before the plan was legalized, the only course of action injured workers had against their employers was to sue for negligence which put them at a disadvantage in getting the financial help they needed if their employer was not negligent or if they decided not to sue at all.

As a result, workers’ compensation allows injured workers to get the financial help they need while preventing them from suing their employers and co-workers for negligence. And the right to collect damages for pain and suffering is not possible.

There are two exceptions of employees that do not fall under the workers’ compensation laws – crewmembers of vessels, and interstate railroad workers. Crewmembers of boats cruise ships, or even small commercial fishing vessels are not entitled to workers’ comp benefits. Instead, a federal law named the Jones Act allows these individuals to sue an employer for damages, including pain and suffering. The same concept applies to interstate railroad workers under a federal law called the Federal Employers Liability Act.

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