Can I File a Personal Injury Lawsuit Against My Employer Even If I Already Received Workers’ Compensation Benefits?
Normally, if someone causes you a personal injury, you have the right to sue them for damages in court. But there are special rules that apply when the person responsible for your injuries is also your employer. Tennessee workers’ compensation law typically applies in such cases. In other words, if you are injured on-the-job, regardless of who is at-fault, your employer must pay you workers’ compensation benefits.
Workers’ compensation is also considered an “exclusive” remedy. This means that once you accept workers’ compensation benefits, you cannot then file a personal injury lawsuit against your employer, even if they were negligent. Workers’ compensation effectively trumps any other legal right you might assert with respect to a work-related accident.
Employee Attacked at Work May Not Pursue Sexual Harassment Claim Against Employer
The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently addressed this principle in connection with a sexual harassment claim. The plaintiff in this lawsuit, Potter v. Yapp USA Automotive Systems, Inc., worked for a staffing agency that assigned her to the defendant. During this assignment, the plaintiff worked with another employee who sexually harassed her.
After the plaintiff complained, she was not assigned to work with the other employee for a couple of weeks. Later, however, they were again assigned to the same shift. During this shift, the other employee was responsible for reviewing the plaintiff’s work on the assembly line. The plaintiff said the defendant kept failing her work without cause. Eventually, the plaintiff confronted the other employee. He then physically assaulted the plaintiff, shoving her to the ground and “injuring her left arm, hand, elbow, and tailbone,” according to the Court of Appeals.
The plaintiff subsequently filed for and received approximately $18,000 in workers’ compensation benefits from the defendant. The plaintiff then filed a separate lawsuit against the defendant under the Tennessee Human Rights Act (THRA). The THRA allows individuals to sue an employer for illegal sex discrimination, which includes workplace sexual harassment.
The defendant argued the plaintiff could not sue under the THRA because she already received benefits under the “exclusive remedy” of workers’ compensation. Both the trial court and the Court of Appeals agreed with the defendant and dismissed the plaintiff’s THRA claims.
As the Court of Appeals explained, the “undisputed facts” of this case showed the assault against the plaintiff “had an inherent connection to [her] employment because it was a dispute over work performance.” That is to say, the assault occurred after the plaintiff confronted her co-worker “because he was backing up the assembly line by repeatedly returning” her work to her. This was precisely the sort of situation that workers’ compensation was designed to cover, the Court of Appeals concluded. The plaintiff therefore could not recover any damages beyond what she already received through workers’ compensation.
Speak with a Tennessee Personal Injury Lawyer Today
Even when workers’ compensation protects an employer from personal injury lawsuits, the same is not true for third parties who may have contributed to an employee’s injuries. If you have been injured in any type of accident and need legal advice from a qualified Clinton personal injury lawyer, contact the offices of Fox Willis Burnette, PLLC, today to schedule a free consultation.