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Strengths and limitations of workers' compensation system

A previous post here recently addressed a factory collapse in which two workers were killed and 17 others were injured. Now, one of the injured workers has filed suit against his employers. The case illustrates some of the strengths and limitations of the workers' compensation system.

The accident occurred in January at a plant that manufactured animal feed products. The factory had a history of workplace safety violations and was the scene of a fatal accident in 2002. Federal investigators were investigating the recent collapse, and have said that they still don't know if structural problems, a dust explosion or some other factor caused the building's collapse.

The lawsuit was filed by a worker who suffered a collapsed lung, broken ribs and other injures in the collapse. His attorney has said that a lawsuit will help his client to recover compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress and other damages that are not covered by workers' compensation benefits.

This case will be heard under the laws of a different state, but many of the legal principles behind personal injury suits and workers' compensation are the same under Connecticut law. The workers' compensation system is meant to streamline the process under which injured workers can be compensated for medical expenses and lost wages when they are injured on the job. To make the process go relatively quickly, injured workers don't need to file suit against their employers and they don't have to prove that their employers were negligent.

There are some tradeoffs in this arrangement, however. For one, when successful, personal injury lawsuits can recover more types of damages than workers' compensation benefits will cover. For another, workers typically can't file suit against their employers if workers' compensation would cover their injuries. There are exceptions, however, in some rare instances, such as when the employer intentionally inflicted harm or willfully disregarded the possibility of injury.

Despite its limitations, the workers' compensation system can be a great thing for workers after a workplace accident.

Source: Connecticut Post, "Man injured in Omaha industrial accident sues," Margery A. Beck, Jan. 29, 2014

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