If you’ve been injured on the job, your best bet to recoup some money for your injuries is though the state workers’ compensation system. In some cases, however, you may also be able to sue your employer for money damages. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia recently explained how an injured worker can overcome an employer’s workers’ compensation immunity.
Mr. Crigger was working for Parsley Enterprises in October 2012 when he was injured in an accident at a mine. According to his complaint, he was riding into the mine when he “came into a depressed area causing him to be thrown upwards” and causing a variety of injuries that kept him away from work. He later sued his employer for his injuries, alleging that the company was aware of health and safety hazards at the mine and subjected him to the danger anyway.
As the District Court explained, workers who are injured on the job are usually barred from suing their employers for the accident. Instead, they’re expected to seek benefits through the state workers’ compensation system. This is a form of insurance, in which employers pay into a benefits fund from which eligible workers can seek compensation for medical bills and missed time from work related to a mishap on the job. This so-called “workers’ compensation immunity” is designed to cut down on litigation related to workplace accidents by allowing workers to seek compensation directly from a third-party insurer.
“However, this immunity is not absolute,” the Court observed, adding that there are some circumstances in which an injured worker can still sue. “Such immunity may be lost only if the employer or person against whom liability is asserted acted with deliberate intention.” There are two ways in which a worker can prove deliberate intention. The first is to show that the employer acted “consciously, subjectively and deliberately” with the specific intent to cause injury or death to the employee. The second is to show that the employer knew about an unsafe working condition that posed a high likelihood of injury or death, that the hazard was a violation of state or federal law, and that the employer intentionally subjected the worker to the hazard.
In this case, the Court said Crigger had made a rough sketch of a claim under the second theory of deliberate intent. He claimed generally that the company knew about unsafe conditions at the mine and actively tried to hide them from federal investigators. He also alleged that these unsafe conditions included problems at the mine shaft’s ingress and egress point that caused his accident. Although this won’t be enough for Crigger to actually win his case, the Court said it was sufficient to overcome Parsley’s motion to dismiss the case. For jurisdictional reasons, the Court said it would send the case back to the appropriate state court.
“This is sufficient to provide a glimmer of hope that plaintiff could recover against defendant Parsley in state court,” the District Court said. “And, having identified this glimmer of hope, the court’s jurisdictional inquiry ends in favor of remand to the state court.”
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident on the job, the Wolfe Law Firm can help. Our West Virginia workers’ compensation lawyers have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm represents clients in a wide range of injury, criminal defense, and bankruptcy matters. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.
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