Understand whether or not punitive damages can be awarded through workers’ compensation in Georgia
When you suffer an injury on the job, you are likely entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for lost wages and medical treatment through your employer. As a result of this coverage, you are only able to file a separate third-party personal injury lawsuit to recoup damages associated with an injury that occurs in the workplace in very limited and rare situations.
Filing a workers’ compensation claim rather than a third-party lawsuit does have some benefits. For instance, when filing a personal injury lawsuit against your employer, it’s much more time-consuming. It can also be quite unpredictable since you must try to win over fickle judges and juries.
By comparison, with workers’ compensation you are able to begin receiving financial benefits immediately, as long as you meet the eligibility guidelines.
In addition to receiving compensation for all medical care related to your work-related injury, you should be paid compensation for lost wages—up to two-thirds of your average weekly wage. If you are injured permanently and are not able to work as a result of that injury, you may also be entitled to receive permanent disability benefits.
Of course, there are also some disadvantages associated with filing a workers’ compensation claim. One of those drawbacks is that you are not able to receive punitive damages in a workers’ comp claim. The benefits you are eligible to receive are limited to what is allowed by Georgia’s workers’ compensation laws. Furthermore, your benefits are typically restricted to a percentage of your average weekly wages (AWW).
What are punitive damages?
Punitive damages aren’t awarded in all lawsuits and are only issued in certain circumstances. In certain cases, punitive damages are awarded as a form of punishment against the defendant and may also be used as a deterrent to prevent similar actions in the future.
For instance, if someone is determined to be guilty of harming another person due to grossly negligent or malicious behavior, the court may elect to grant punitive damages as a way to make an example and discourage others from engaging in the same behavior.
Since punitive damages are usually awarded as a form of punishment, they aren’t awarded in workers’ comp cases.
When can you file a negligence lawsuit for a workplace injury?
In rare cases, you may be able to take your employer to civil court following an occupational injury. One of the more common circumstances in which you may be able to file a third-party lawsuit against your employer is if your employer harmed you intentionally. However, you must be able to prove that your employer had a direct intent of hurting you.
Keep in mind that this doesn’t apply when your employer was negligent and you were harmed as a result of that negligence. Even if your employer was careless, that doesn’t amount to an intent to harm.
You may also be able to sue your employer if the employer doesn’t have workers’ compensation insurance coverage.
In Georgia, if an employer doesn’t have workers’ compensation insurance or their coverage is insufficient, injured employees are able to file a lawsuit against the employer in an effort to recoup damages associated with occupational injuries or illnesses.
In the event that you are able to sue your employer, you won’t be restricted to receiving benefits to the amounts otherwise issued under workers’ compensation. Along with the reimbursement for medical treatment, lost wages and permanent impairment compensation, you may also be able to receive compensation for pain and suffering as well as punitive damages.
As part of the lawsuit, certain documents will need to be filed with the court. These documents may need to be filed in the state where your employer is located, the state where you live or possibly even in the state where the injury took place.
In some cases, these could all be different states. When that is the case, it’s important to make certain you are working with an experienced attorney who can handle your case in the proper jurisdiction. If you win your case, you may be able to receive punitive damages that could actually be far greater than the actual damages sustained. This is particularly true in cases in which an employer is determined to have behaved in an egregious manner.
If you need assistance in filing your workers’ compensation case or you believe you may have a third-party lawsuit outside the workers’ compensation system, contact Gerber & Holder Law to learn more about possible benefits available to you and how best to proceed.