Workers’ Compensation from Illegal Conduct

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 What is Workers' Compensation?

You can apply for workers’ compensation if you are injured in the course of your performing your job, whether you work for a private employer or for the government. This system allows employees injured on the job to get compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and disability payments, for example, that were suffered as a result of the injury.

The legal theory of strict liability governs workers’ compensation. What this means is that the employer in the case of this type of injury is liable regardless of their part in the matter. In other words, negligence or fault of the employer does not have to be proven in order for the employee to recover in the form of workers’ compensation benefits.

The laws regarding workers’ compensation do vary from state to state. It is important to check the laws of the state in which you were working when you were injured. It is also important to realize that there are statutes of limitation, or time limits, regarding how long you have to file this type of claim after being injured.

What If an Injury was Caused by the Illegal Conduct of the Worker?

Although the employer’s fault may not be at issue in a workers’ compensation case, an employee’s certainly is. If an employee who files for workers’ compensation benefits is shown to be guilty of illegal conduct, they will probably be denied workers’ compensation benefits.

If an employee was injured while committing grossly negligent conduct (such as breaking workplace rules), they may be prevented from collecting benefits. Negligent conduct will not be a bar to recovering workers’ compensation benefits in every jurisdiction.

Jurisdictions do vary on this, so you will want to check or have an attorney check the laws where you live and work. Also, the level of misconduct may influence whether or not you are awarded benefits.

What are Some Examples of Illegal or Negligent Conduct that Can Block Workers’ Compensation Benefits?

As mentioned above, it is possible to not receive workers’ compensation based on the actions that led to the injury. Here are some examples of behavior, illegal and negligent, that can lead to the employee being barred from compensation:

  • Failing to follow workplace safety regulations and being injured as a result;
  • Being injured doing work but while committing a crime;
  • Being injured at work, while engaging in horseplay;
  • Committing fraud in order to receive workers’ compensation benefits, including: making false statements, and faking or exaggerating an injury; and/or
  • Being injured while on the job, but also while intoxicated due to alcohol or drugs.

What are the Exceptions to the Bar of Recovery for Workers Compensation Benefits?

There are several exceptions in which the employee will still be permitted to recover benefits, despite having been engaged in illegal activity at the time of their injury. These exceptions are:

  • If the Employer Permits the Illegal Activity: Depending on where you live and what laws govern, if your employer approved the illegal activity which brought about your injury, then you, the injured worker, will not be preventing from receiving workers’ compensation benefits.
    • The employer may give their approval of the activity either by telling you verbally, or they may give the approval in writing. It is also possible for the employer to give tacit approval if they knew illegal activity was being conducted by their employee, and they did nothing to stop it.
  • If the Employee Was Unaware of the Illegal Conduct: Also depending on the laws where you live and work, it may be that a worker will not be denied workers’ compensation benefits if it can be shown that they did not understand that the activity they were engaged in was illegal.
    • Additionally, courts will generally award benefits if it can be shown that the injury occurred in the course of an act that was a violation of some law or policy, but it was one that was trivial. Of course, negligence does not rise to the level of an intentional crime, so if the injury was caused by an act of negligence, or an act lacking intent, you are more likely to recover workers’ compensation benefits.
  • Type of Illegal Activity: If a crime was, in fact, committed, a court will take into consideration the nature of the crime-in other words, how serious a crime was committed. This varies by jurisdiction.
    • Some jurisdictions have determined that the unlawful attempt to injure another person is the only crime which can prevent the receiving of benefits. In other jurisdictions, instead of denying benefits to a person who was injured while committing an illegal act, a court will instead reduce the amount of benefits they receive. How much of reduction benefits will depend on the seriousness of the crime committed.

Should I Contact a Lawyer for Help with Workers’ Compensation for Illegal Conduct?

If you became injured on the job, you should consider filing for workers’ compensation. Workers compensation claims can become complicated, depending on the circumstances. You can speak with an workers compensation lawyer to get a better idea of your chances of receiving benefits for your injury. An experienced employment attorney can help you understand your options and even go to court on your behalf.

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