Can I Sue My Employer If I Get Injured On The Job?

Exclusivity of Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Laws

Getting into an elevator in an office building the other day, I overheard two women who worked in the building talking about how one of them had nearly gotten her arm stuck in the elevator door. They were joking about how, if that had happened, the woman could have sued her employer. It was a joke, but it highlighted a common misconception—that you can sue your employer if you get injured on the job. In fact, you generally can’t do this in Minnesota, or at least not in the way that most people think of.

Minnesota has laws that allow employees to make a workers’ compensation claim if they are injured on the job. The plus side is that there is a straightforward, easy-to-apply statutory scheme to obtain injury benefits. The downside is that the workers’ compensation law is generally exclusive, which means that it prevents employees from suing their employer in an ordinary negligence lawsuit over on-the-job-injuries. In other words, the workers’ compensation law takes the place of negligence claims. So, if you’ve been injured on the job, instead of looking into personal injury suits, focus your attention on finding a good workers’ compensation lawyer to start your claim.

But like pretty much everything else in the law, this concept isn’t entirely black and white. There are a few exceptional situations in which you can bring an action against your employer after suffering an on-the-job injury. One such exception is called the “intentional tort” exception (click here for some technical info, if you really want to know). If your employer acts with a conscious and deliberate intent to injure you, you can sue the employer. This is a pretty narrow exception, though, and doesn’t apply often. For example, the court has found that concealing a workplace hazard is not enough to trigger the intentional tort exception. And in one unusual case, a court had to decide whether giving an employee a birthday spanking was a deliberate injury! (It’s not.) Basically, in order to fit under this exception, your claim needs to involve something like your manager hitting you or taking some other action that directly injures you.

Exception to the Exclusivity of MN Work Comp Laws

The other exception to the exclusivity of the workers’ compensation system is when your injury is caused by the act of a coworker, and that coworker has acted with what is called in the law, “gross negligence.” Gross negligence involves a person acting with disregard for the rights of others; it doesn’t need to be the type of direct injury talked about above, but it needs to be more than just a bit of carelessness. In order to be able to sue, your coworker must also have a personal duty to you. This means that the coworker acted outside the scope of his employment.

For example, after Korey Stringer, the Minnesota Vikings player who died of heatstroke at Viking Training Camp, his family sued the Vikings, arguing that the medical services coordinator and assistant athletic trainer were Stringer’s co-employees and had been grossly negligent. The court found that since the coordinator and trainer were acting within the scope of their employment (taking care of football players), they didn’t have a personal duty to Stringer and could not be sued under this exception to the workers’ compensation law. If the coordinator and trainer had instead been doing something other than what they were supposed to be doing, though, and had been doing something that they were not authorized to do, then they could have been found to have a personal duty to Stringer. In other words, if you are injured by a coworker, think about whether the coworker was doing what he or she was supposed to be doing at the time they injured you.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to either post them here or email me at Crosengren@rokolaw.com

Workers' CompensationChristopher Rosengren
Rosengren, Kohlmeyer & Hagen Law Office Chtd.
Mankato, Minnesota
507-625-5000
rokolaw.com