Can You Sue an Employer for a Back Injury?

Attorneys Can Determine Whether You Can Sue Your Employer for a Back Injury

If you received a back injury on the job, you may wonder if you can sue your employer. The answer depends on the specific situation. In North Carolina, if your employer has workers’ compensation insurance that covers your injuries, you generally may not sue your employer. However, if your employer does not carry workers’ comp, and if there is gross negligence on the part of your employer, your supervisor or a co-worker that caused your injuries, or in several other situations, you may be able to sue. There also are situations where you may be able to file a lawsuit against a third party who is not your employer.

The North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act provides certain benefits to employees who have been injured in workplace accidents or while carrying out work-related duties.

Those benefits include:

  • Weekly wage loss benefits for time you cannot work or your employer cannot accommodate any changes needed for you to do your work
  • Payment of medical bills related to the injury
  • Reimbursement for mileage to and from doctors’ appointments over 20 miles roundtrip
  • Payment for permanent injury to the injured body part in some cases, according to a rating.

However, the Act does not provide compensation for non-economic damages, such as for pain and suffering, and does not fully reimburse lost wages. If you are in a situation where you can file a successful lawsuit, you may receive substantially higher awards that cover these damages in addition to your workers’ compensation recovery.

For this reason, it makes sense to speak to an experienced North Carolina personal injury lawyer who can evaluate the circumstances of your case and determine whether you can file a lawsuit, before making a claim. Your lawyer can investigate your case to determine all parties who were at fault and see if a lawsuit is warranted, and help you get workers’ compensation if you qualify.

Can I Sue My Employer if I Injured My Back at Work?

North Carolina law requires most employers with three or more employees to carry workers’ compensation coverage for on-the-job injuries such as back injuries. If your employer does not have workers’ compensation coverage, or if you are hired as an independent contractor, you may be able to file a civil claim against your employer under personal injury law.

You may also sue an employer if your back injuries were caused by intentional acts of the employer to purposely cause you harm. You may be able to sue if your employer did something intentionally that is “substantially certain” to cause serious injury or death. In these cases, you may file a lawsuit even if the employer has workers’ compensation insurance. You may also file a lawsuit against a supervisor or co-worker if these parties injure you through conduct that is willful, wanton, or reckless, such as through assault, rape, invasion of privacy, or slander.

While back and spinal cord injuries are common occurrences in many workplace situations, it is often difficult to prove just how you received these injuries. That’s another reason why it’s important to have the assistance of an experienced attorney who knows how to investigate and prove your case.

How Do I Prove a Back Injury Happened at Work?

Whether or not you can file a lawsuit, proving your back injury was work-related is essential for receiving workers’ compensation. Workers’ comp is insurance, with premiums paid by employers, and since premiums go up when benefits are paid out, employers often try to dispute claims. The insurance companies are out for profit and want to pay out as little as possible. They have high-powered lawyers working to deny or dispute benefits, so you may have to provide evidence to support your workers’ comp claim.

If you can file a lawsuit, you will have to prove how the accident happened and who was negligent and at fault for causing it.

A personal injury lawyer can help you prove your back injury was work-related. Your attorney will:

  • Make sure you know what to say and do after you are injured to meet North Carolina requirements, such as notifying your supervisor and Human Resources, and filing all forms in a timely manner
  • Ensure you get proper medical care immediately and that your injuries are documented
  • Investigate how the accident happened, interviewing witnesses and gathering evidence such as from photos, videos, and work and medical records to help prove your claim
  • Utilize experts to reconstruct your accident, testify as to how your injuries occurred and how they affect your life
  • Dispute any denials and negotiate with insurance companies for a fair settlement
  • File a lawsuit if appropriate, prepare your case and arguing on your behalf if a claim goes to trial
  • Handle any appeals if necessary.

Causes of Back Injuries at Work

A spinal cord injury lawyer knows common reasons why back injuries happen at work and what to look for to show the connection with your job. Back problems often occur if your job requires:

  • Lifting, pushing, pulling, or carrying heavy or bulky loads, especially in awkward positions
  • Repetitive tasks, such as packing heavy products
  • Delivery work that requires shifting and lifting items
  • Doing work that requires bending, crouching, stooping, stretching, twisting and reaching, poor posture, and awkward body positioning
  • Driving or using equipment that can lead to crashes.

In addition, you could file a third-party personal injury claim for your back injuries against parties that include:

  • The manufacturer of dangerous equipment, machinery or products that injured you
  • A subcontractor at the work site whose negligence led to your accident
  • A vehicle driver who crashes into you while you are working
  • A property owner or manager if your work injuries occur on someone else’s property
  • A non-employee supervisor who is in charge of overseeing activities on the work site.

Third-party claims are not governed by workers’ compensation laws, but by the personal injury rules that apply to injuries caused by negligence.

If you win your case, you may receive compensation from a personal injury lawsuit in addition to your workers’ compensation recovery. However, you may have to pay back some of the workers’ compensation benefits you received.

In personal injury cases, your attorney would have to prove the existence of the following legal elements:

  • Duty: The party owed you a duty of care not to cause harm.
  • Breach: The party breached this duty by actions or failure to act.
  • Cause: This breach caused injury to your back.
  • Damages: You suffered damages as a result.

In a successful lawsuit, in addition to your monetary losses for things like lost wages and medical and rehabilitations costs, you could receive an award for your non-economic damages. This covers your damages that do not have a specific dollar value but negatively impact your life, such as pain and suffering, mental and emotional anguish, and loss of quality of life and consortium. In some instances, punitive damages may be awarded in third-party claims if there was egregious conduct that caused the employee’s injury.

These awards tend to be much higher than workers’ comp awards, so make sure you consult with an attorney as soon as possible to ensure you get all the compensation you are entitled to. In addition, your attorney can help you reduce what you have to pay back to workers’ compensation out of the settlement.

Can I Sue My Former Employer for a Back Injury I Got on the Job?

Generally, you can still bring a workers’ compensation case against a former employer for injuries you got on the job — if your injury qualifies under the same conditions as if you were still working for that employer. However, you would need to be able to produce some medical evidence of your injury and prove it was connected to your work for that employer. Since evidence tends to evaporate over time, it’s important to consult with a personal injury attorney immediately to get your case started.

Get Help from an Experienced North Carolina Back Injury Attorney

If you or a loved one has a work-related back injury, you do not have to deal with this alone.  The experienced attorneys at the Sumwalt Anderson Law Firm know North Carolina law and have the resources necessary to investigate and prove your case. When you work with our team, you will have legal representation of highly skilled negotiators and seasoned litigators who are unafraid to appeal cases.

Whether you are entitled to workers’ compensation or you can sue your employer or a third party for your back injury, we are fully prepared to fight to get you get the maximum benefits you deserve. We have a long history of results, including a $5.2 million settlement for personal injury and workers’ compensation for a traumatic brain injury.

We offer a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss the circumstances of your case and determine the best way to proceed, so don’t delay.  Call Sumwalt Anderson Law Firm today at (704) 377-3770.

Attorney Mark Sumwalt

Mark Sumwalt is a native of Rock Hill, South Carolina who has practiced law in Charlotte since 1981, primarily in the field of worker’s compensation. He has litigated hundreds of cases to decision all over the state and handled many significant appeals to the North Carolina Court of Appeals and the North Carolina Supreme Court, particularly in the area of attendant care. [ Attorney Bio ]


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