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Can I sue my employer for a workplace injury?

Workers’ compensation benefits are a critical resource for those who are injured on the job. This is especially so because, in most cases, workers’ compensation benefits are the exclusive remedy available to workers who becomes injured on the job. The fundamental agreement or trade-off at the heart of the workers’ compensation system is that employers give up the right to sue their employer in court for damages associated with workplace injuries in exchange for the right to receive benefits through the workers’ compensation system without reference to fault.

Most states recognize that there are certain exceptions to the workers’ compensation exclusive remedy doctrine. Illinois courts have recognized several important exceptions, including intentional conduct, dual capacity, and retaliatory discharge. Proving an exception to the rule is not necessarily an easy matter, though, and it is important to work with an experienced advocate to build a strong case. 

As a general principle, workplace injuries are covered by workers’ compensation when they are accidental. By this is meant that the injury occurred at a specific time and place, had a definite cause, and occurred in the course of employment unexpectedly and without affirmative act or design of the employee. When an employer or co-worker intentionally harms an employee, the employee has the right to pursue damages in court.  

To argue the intentional injury exception, an injured employee must demonstrate more than substantial certainty that the employer’s actions would result in injuries to employees. The employee must prove that the employer, or co-worker, acted deliberately with specific intent to injure the employee. This is strict standard to meet.

The dual capacity exception refers to situations where an employer has legal duties to an employee separate from those attached to the employment relationship. We’ll explore this exception in our next post, as well as the retaliatory discharge exception.


Dale v. South Central Illinois Mass Transit District, 2014 IL App (5th) 130361

Garland v. Morgan Stanley & Co., 2013 IL App (1st) 112121

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