Suing Your Employer for Getting COVID-19 at Work
Even though the jobless rate in New Jersey has spiked to over 16%, there are still countless employees who have needed to show up in person to work during the COVID-19 crisis. Many of them have contracted the virus at work as their employers were lax about protecting them on the job. You may be wondering whether you can file a lawsuit against your employer instead of seeking workers’ compensation benefits.
Your Lawsuit Must Be About More Than Negligence
Like the response to many legal questions, the answer to the inquiry of whether you can sue your employer for not taking the proper COVID-19 precautions is complicated. Ultimately, it would depend on the level of blame that the employer bears for the fact that you contracted COVID-19 on the job. Nevertheless, you would need to go well beyond showing that your employer was negligent in failing to protect you.
In general, it is very difficult to file a personal injury lawsuit against your employer. This is because the workers’ compensation system gives them a certain level of protection from any lawsuit that an employee would file. If a worker is injured on the job, and getting coronavirus at work would count as an injury, their exclusive remedy is to file a workers’ compensation claim.
Try to Find Lawsuit Grounds
You cannot file a standard personal injury lawsuit on the theory that the employer was negligent in failing to protect you. While you can receive workers’ compensation benefits under those circumstances, you would likely get more in payment in a personal injury lawsuit. This is why some victims will want to find a reason to try to file a lawsuit instead of a workers’ compensation claim.
In New Jersey, there are some limited circumstances under which an employee can sue their employer. Instead of just showing negligence on the part of their employer, they would need to prove that their employer acted with gross negligence. This is a much higher standard that is not always easy for a plaintiff to meet.
The Employer Must Have Acted Deliberately
While negligence can cover omissions or carelessness, gross negligence requires that the employer acted with some sort of intention or deliberate conduct. In other words, your employer needs to know that their employees are facing risks and deliberately ignored these risks in failing to protect the employees.
This is not an impossible standard to meet when it comes to preventing COVID-19 outbreaks at work. While many employers have since cleaned up their act as more information about the pandemic has been released, there are countless stories from the earlier days when employers sent their workers on the job without any personal protective equipment. Moreover, some employers forced their employees to work close together when they knew that COVID-19 was a highly contagious disease. Some supervisors forced employees to come into work even when they were showing symptoms of being ill. Each of these may be considered as deliberate conduct if the case goes to trial.
Again, it is not easy to win a personal injury lawsuit against an employer no matter the circumstances. This is the reason why workers’ compensation exists. However, there have been cases in New Jersey where employees have been successful. For example, a New Jersey court allowed an injured employee to sue when their employer willfully ignored federal safety rules.
Of course, COVID-19 is an unprecedented situation, so it is too soon to tell how courts will treat the normal rules. A Morristown personal injury lawyer can advise you as to the possible merits of your case. You should be prepared for some uncertainty along the way as courts’ legal approaches to this issue are still unknown.
To learn more about whether your employer may be liable for your case of COVID-19 that you got on the job, contact the Morristown personal injury lawyer Gregg Wisotsky at (973) 898-0161 to schedule your free initial consultation. We have offices throughout New Jersey.