If you have been hurt in an accident, you have the right to be compensated for your injuries. Compensation may be available to help pay for your medical bills, emotional pain and suffering and your living expenses while out of work. However, it is important to know the difference between a personal injury case and a workers’ compensation case as you cannot file both at the same time to recover damages.

What’s a Workers’ Compensation Case?

If a worker is hurt on the job, he or she is guaranteed reimbursement for medical bills and a portion of his or her salary while out of work. The system was designed to expedite claims against employers by employees to help them begin the recovery process as quickly as possible. It was also designed to keep costs down for employers as damages were capped to actual losses incurred by the injured victim. This is true even if that worker would have been entitled to more under personal injury laws.

What’s a Personal Injury Case?

Personal injury cases handle accidents that take place outside of the workplace. For instance, if an individual is hurt in a car accident or while playing hockey, he or she may pursue compensation for actual damages in addition to punitive damages. Injured victims prefer to file personal injury claims over workers’ compensation claims because they may be entitled to a larger award from a jury or a larger negotiated settlement.

For instance, a worker may be entitled to punitive damages as well as compensation for pain and suffering. Depending on the circumstances in your case, you could receive hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in punitive damages or for your pain and suffering. This may be on top of what you are awarded to pay your medical bills or reimburse you for lost future earnings.

Exceptions to Workers’ Compensation Rules

If an employee is hurt at work, he may be entitled to file a personal injury case if the accident was caused by a defective product. For instance, if the fall arrest system a worker was using failed, the manufacturer of that system may be liable in a defective product lawsuit.

An employer generally owes a duty of care to his or her employees. If your injuries are caused by your employer’s willful or egregiously negligent conduct, it may be possible to file a personal injury lawsuit as opposed to going through the workers’ compensation system.

In the event that an employer doesn’t have workers’ compensation coverage, a worker may be able to sue under personal injury laws. By law, most employers must carry such coverage for their workers unless they are classified as independent contractors. If a worker is classified as an independent contractor, that person must carry his or her own insurance.

What If Someone Else Hurts Me While I’m Working?

If you are hurt by a third-party while on your way to or while at work, you may be entitled to file a personal injury lawsuit. For instance, if you were struck by another vehicle while driving to work or while making a delivery for your employer, the person who hit you would be at fault. If you were assaulted by a customer while at work, that customer may be at fault for your injuries instead of your employer.

While a personal injury lawsuit may result in more compensation, you may not have a choice as to how your injury case is resolved. If you are hurt at work, you must work with your employer to file a workers’ compensation case even if you are leaving money on the table. If you have questions about your case or how to proceed, it may be in your best interest to consult with or retain an attorney.