What Is the Difference Between Personal Injury and Workers Compensation?

Worker with Injured Wrist Writing

Workers compensation and personal injury claims have something in common: Both provide payment for injuries. In other ways, they are very different types of claims. Especially for workers injured on the job, it is important to know the difference between personal injury and workers compensation. There are times when an injured worker may have both types of claims.

Workers Compensation in Kansas

Under the Kansas workers compensation act, most employers are required to provide compensation for workers who suffer on-the-job injuries, disability, or death. Employees do not pay for workers compensation coverage. Generally, employers pay for coverage through an insurance carrier regulated by the Kansas Insurance Department.

Workers compensation covers the medical expenses related to a work injury. It also provides benefits for temporary or permanent disability.

Workers compensation is no-fault coverage. When workers compensation pays for a work injury, the injured employee cannot bring any other type of legal action against the employer or another employee to recover compensation. It is irrelevant whether the employer, another employee, or even the injured employee was at fault (negligent) in causing the accident.

When an employee has a claim, the worker files the claim with the employer, who processes it. The law provides a detailed process for handling claims in the event of a denial or if an injured worker encounters problems receiving compensation.

Understanding Personal Injury Claims

The term personal injury refers to a specific type of legal claim. Like a workers compensation claim, a personal injury claim compensates a victim who suffered injuries in an accident.

There are two primary differences between a workers compensation claim and a personal injury claim. First, while workers compensation relates to injuries received during employment, personal injury relates to injuries in any setting.

The second difference really distinguishes the two types of claims: While workers compensation is a “no fault” system, fault is an essential element in a personal injury claim. A personal injury claim arises when someone causes injury to another person by being negligent.

The legal term negligence refers to breach of a legally imposed duty. Laws require people to exercise the same care as a reasonable person in similar circumstances. When someone fails to exercise the legally required amount of care and causes an injury, the person is negligent and at fault in causing the injury. The victim can make a legal claim for personal injury against the negligent individual to recover compensation for the injuries.

There are many different types of personal injury cases. Car accidents are one of the most common types. Premises liability cases, which involve injuries received on someone’s property, are also common. Slip-and-fall cases are a type of premises liability case.

Personal injury claims also can be product liability cases that involve injuries caused by defective products. Medical malpractice lawsuits are also a type of personal injury case.

Claims for Both Workers Compensation and Personal Injury

While personal injury and workers compensation are two very different types of claims, there are situations when an injured employee may have both types of claims. If that occurs, the claims must be pursued separately.

When an employee is injured and covered by workers compensation insurance, the employee cannot sue the employer or another employee, even if one (or both) of them caused the injury. However, if negligence of an outside person — referred to legally as a third party — caused the employee’s injuries, the injured employee may be able to bring a personal injury lawsuit against the third party.

A third party can cause injuries to a worker in many different circumstances that will create both workers compensation and personal injury claims, such as:

  • You suffer injuries in an auto accident while you are working. Another driver’s negligence caused the accident. You may have a personal injury claim against the negligent driver. (Kansas no-fault auto insurance laws apply to vehicle accident cases and may limit your ability to pursue a personal injury claim.)
  • Your work includes making deliveries on business or private property. You are injured on property that belongs to someone other than your employer. You may be able to bring a premises liability personal injury action against the property owner or operator if that person's negligence caused your injuries.
  • You use equipment in your work, and you suffer injuries because of a defect in the equipment. You may be able to bring a products liability personal injury case against the manufacturer of the equipment, if your case meets specific legal requirements for liability.

There are other times when employee injuries can give rise to both a workers compensation and personal injury claim.

Difference Between Personal Injury and Workers Compensation Payments

If your injuries support both a workers compensation claim and a personal injury claim, it does not mean that you can receive twice the compensation. The workers compensation insurance company will be reimbursed out of a personal injury settlement for any amounts paid for your workers compensation claim.

However, there can be benefits to making both types of claims. Compensation and damages are calculated differently in personal injury actions than they are in workers compensation claims.

Workers compensation provides payment for economic damages, like medical expenses and lost wages. In a personal injury case, non-economic damages like pain and suffering and lost earning capacity may also be recovered. While you won’t get twice the amount of compensation by making both a workers compensation and personal injury claim, you may receive more in a personal injury case than you would through workers compensation.

Asserting a Personal Injury Claim

Making a personal injury claim is much more complicated than filing a workers compensation claim. A personal injury claim requires negotiating with a liability insurance company and may even require filing a court action to pursue compensation.

Circumstances giving rise to both types of claims usually are factually and legally complicated. There are a number of legal and practical considerations to take into account in determining the best strategy to pursue in a workers compensation / personal injury situation. If you are in a situation where you suffered significant, long-term injuries and may have both a workers compensation claim and a personal injury claim, you should talk with an experienced attorney.

Talk With Our Salina, Kansas Workers Compensation and Personal Injury Attorneys

At the Salina, Kansas law firm Hampton & Royce, L.C., we assist clients throughout the state with workers compensation and personal injury matters. Our experienced, compassionate attorneys can help if you have either type of claim — or if you have a situation where you may have both types of claims. Contact us to schedule a consultation to discuss your circumstances and concerns with us.