Workers' Compensation and Car Accidents

When is a car accident covered by workers' compensation, and what are your claim options?

Each year our country sees an increasing number of cars on its roads and highways. And with more and more people spending more time in their cars for work-related reasons, it is important to understand your legal rights if you are injured in a car accident while on the job. In this article, we’ll explain your legal options.


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What Does It Mean to Be “On the Job”?

The rules for workers compensation claims differ from state to state. However, almost all states require that you be “on the job” at the time of your injury in order to receive workers compensation benefits.

Generally, if you are injured at your place of work, you are considered to be “on the job” (although there are exceptions to that rule). If you are in a car accident while driving or riding in a car for work-related reasons away from your work place, you may also be covered by workers compensation. Typically, this occurs in the following situations:

  • running an errand for your boss or employer
  • making deliveries
  • transporting another employee
  • if you drive for a living
  • if you travel for work and have no fixed office, and
  • if you are paid by your employer for your travel time to or from home.

Generally speaking, you are not able to collect workers compensation benefits for a car accident that occurred while you were going to or coming from work. However, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, if you stopped while on the way to work to pick up supplies for the office, and then were in a car accident, you may be eligible for workers compensation benefits.

Civil Claims Vs. Workers Compensation Claims

In addition to workers compensation benefits, if the other driver caused the car accident, you may also have the right to bring a claim against that driver or his or her insurance company. A claim against the other driver or their insurance company is called a “civil claim.” A civil claim is brought if you sustained injuries because of the fault or negligence of the other driver. That driver is known as a “third party”, and bringing a claim against that driver is known as a “third party claim.”

The procedure for a workers compensation claim is very different. That type of claim is filed against your employer in the workers compensation court or industrial court of your state.

The most significant differences between a workers compensation claim and a personal injury civil claim are the types of damages that can be recovered. In a workers compensation claim, you generally receive payments for only your medical bills and lost wages. You will not receive payments for any physical and mental pain and suffering that you suffered from your injuries. Those are known as “general damages” and they are only recoverable in a personal injury civil claim.

Workers compensation benefits do not cover property damage. Additionally, your employer is not required to pay for repairs to your car, even if you were running an errand at your employer’s request. Payment for vehicle damage can only be recovered in a civil claim.

Another important difference between a workers compensation claim and a personal injury civil claim is the issue of “fault.” When you bring a third party civil claim against the other driver for damages, you must prove that the other driver caused the car accident. If you caused the car accident, the laws in most states limit or prohibit altogether the damages you may collect. In a workers compensation claim, the rules are very different. Generally speaking, you do not need to prove anyone else caused the car accident. You may collect workers compensation benefits even if the car accident is your fault. Under the rules of most states, you only need to establish (1) you were injured, and (2) you were “on the job.”

The two types of claims also have very different requirements when it comes to the time periods within which you must bring your claim. In a personal injury civil claim, depending on your state, you may have up to one, two, or even five years to file your civil lawsuit. In a workers compensation claim, the time requirements are generally much shorter. Typically, if you are injured on the job, you must notify your employer within a matter of days, or sometimes as soon as twenty-four hours. If you do not meet that time requirement, the employer may have a defense to your claim.

Can I Bring Both a Workers Compensation Claim and a Civil Claim?

The manner in which the Workers Compensation system interacts with a personal injury civil claim can be very confusing. You do not typically have to choose between filing a workers compensation claim and filing a civil claim. Even if you accept workers compensation benefits from your employer, you still have the right to seek damages from the other driver who caused the car accident.

However, if you receive workers compensation benefits, your employer or its insurance company may have a “lien” against any compensation you receive from any third parties. A lien is the equivalent of a right to reimbursement. For example, if you receive $10,000 in workers compensation benefits from your employer, and you later reach a settlement agreement for $20,000 in your third party civil claim against the other driver, your employer can require you to reimburse it for the amount of the workers compensation benefit the employer paid to you.

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