If you were injured while under the scope and course of your employment, you can collect benefits for being off the job and paying for medical expenses from your employer if they have a worker’s compensation insurance policy. California requires any entity which employs others to carry such a policy. It does not matter if the accident was your fault, your employer’s fault or even some third party’s fault– so long as your employer had a worker’s compensation insurance policy you can make a claim for benefits following your injury on the job.
In the event that your employer lacked such a policy, you can sue them in civil court and may be entitled to additional recoveries that you would not have received if they had a valid worker’s comp policy. In addition, you may be able to make a claim on the Uninsured Employer’s board who can, and will, penalize employers who break the law by not having a valid worker’s compensation policy. The exception is if you were intentionally assaulted- either by your employer or a coworker- in which case you can sue them as normal without their gaining the protection of worker’s compensation insurance even if they do have a policy.
Regardless of the above, third parties responsible for your injuries can be sued by you in civil court for damages you can’t recover from your employer such as pain and suffering. However, any entity which has paid worker’s compensation benefits to you has the right to enter the lawsuit to recover those expenses from such third parties.
A third party could be a patron, a separate company doing business with your employer, the landlord of property your employer is leasing/renting, or even the manufacturer of some equipment that caused your injuries. Anyone who may be responsible for your injuries but who was also working within the scope of their employment under your employer could not be sued as they are also protected by your employer’s worker’s compensation insurance unless, as noted above, they intentionally attacked you.
As a final note, california is one state which allows “workers [to] sue employers for injuries sustained due to use of a product manufactured by the employer as long as it was obtained from a third party.” In other words, if you work for a manufacturer of a product which injuries you may still sue them as long as you received the item which caused your injury from someone other than your employer, like a retail store or other distributor.
28 Causes of Action 2d 523 (Originally published in 2005)