Oklahoma workers’ compensation is designed to help workers get back to work quickly after on-the-job injuries and prevent them from going without income while they cannot work. It also helps protect employers from expensive and time-consuming lawsuits by employees — particularly important in the more dangerous professions, like construction work. With few exceptions, employers must carry workers’ compensation insurance, and that insurance covers all employees from the first day of work.
Generally, if you suffer injury on the job, it makes sense to accept workers’ compensation payments. These payments do not depend on determination of fault or responsibility: if you get hurt at work, you qualify. The only real dispute that may arise between you and your employer — or your employer’s insurance company — is the extent of your injury or disability. The trade-off is that once you accept workers’ compensation, you usually cannot directly sue your employer.
However, sometimes the injury is so severe and so expensive that workers’ compensation does not provide enough recompense for your injuries and pain and suffering. Generally speaking, four circumstances exist in which you may sue in addition to claiming workers’ compensation benefits:
- Defective product — You may sue a third party if a defective product caused your injury. For example, if a manufacturing machine malfunctions, injuring you, you may sue the maker or installer of the machine. If a window in your office building collapses on you and your employer rents or leases space in the building, you may sue the building owner and the window installer.
- Toxic substance — Chemicals and other substances that workers —asbestos, chromium compounds, silica, etc. — use can cause acute and latent injuries. Acute injuries show up right away, while latent injuries — like cancers — can take years to appear. Victims of injuries from toxic substances can often sue their employers outside of the workers’ compensation system.
- Intentional or egregious employer misconduct — If your employer injures you deliberately — for example, if you get in a fight with your boss and your boss pushes you, causing you to fall down a flight of stairs, you can sue your employer for compensation beyond that available through workers’ compensation. Additionally, if your employer instructs someone else — a supervisor or security guard, for example — to act in a way that injures you, or if your employer refuses to provide basic safety equipment or take basic safety precautions, that may qualify as intentional or egregious misconduct.
- Your employer does not have workers’ comp insurance — Oklahoma law requires nearly all employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance. If your employer did not have such insurance at the time of your injury, in Oklahoma you may sue your employer either in the Workers’ Compensation Court or in a regular District Court, but not both.
In any of these cases — and in all cases of on-the-job injury — consult with an experienced McAlester workers’ compensation lawyer about protecting your rights and getting the compensation you deserve.