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Court: Family must use workers' compensation over fatal accident

When Connecticut workers are hurt or killed on the job, they or their families are entitled to benefits through the workers' compensation system. In fact, lawmakers intended for the workers' compensation system to take the place of personal injury lawsuits by injured workers against their employers. Therefore workers or their families who collect workers' compensation benefits generally cannot also sue the employer over the same injury.

A recent court decision in another state illustrates the distinction between personal injury lawsuits and workers' compensation benefits, and shows how the legal separation between the two can sometimes look unfair.

The ruling came about in the case of an 18-year-old man who was killed in an accident at a grain elevator in 2007. Federal authorities later cited the victim's employer for violation of worker safety laws in connection with the incident because the employer let him enter a grin bin without supervision or a harness while the equipment was in operation and had no rescue equipment available. The company was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine for its safety violations.

The young man's family sued the employer on behalf of his estate, but a court threw out their lawsuit, finding that state law requires that all cases in which workers are injured or killed in the course of their employment be handled through the workers' compensation system. The family took their case to the state's Supreme Court, arguing that the state should make an exception to the workers' compensation requirement because the fatal accident was the result of the employer's intentional acts to shirk its responsibilities to provide safe working conditions. The state Supreme Court rejected that argument, saying that the state legislature is the only body that can make that kind of exception to the workers' compensation law.

Connecticut's own laws regarding workers' compensation are different from those of the state involved in this story, but they have equally tricky technicalities. Connecticut workers who have been injured on the job, or the families of workers killed on the job should get help researching the law and their legal options.

Source: Connecticut Post, "Family of Neb. Man killed in workplace can't sue," Margery A. Beck, May 31, 2013

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