Alabama’s workers’ compensation law is a specialized division of personal injury law.
The 2 have some important distinctions:
- Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system. This means an injured employee who files a claim for workers’ compensation benefits does not have to prove that the employer is at fault for their injuries. They do not have to prove negligence or an intentional act by the employer. For a regular personal injury claim, it is necessary to show that the defendant’s negligence or intentional act was the proximate cause of the injury.
- Workers’ compensation benefits do not include some damages (e.g., pain and suffering) that are awardable in a regular personal injury case.
- The workers’ compensation system is administered by a government agency such as the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Division. Separate statutory rules and procedures apply for claiming workers’ compensation benefits. Personal injury claims are governed by statutory and common law and civil procedures.
Alabama workers’ compensation law
Employers with 5 or more full or part-time employees are required to cover their employees for the benefits enumerated by the workers’ compensation statute. Normally, coverage is provided by insurance. However, a few employers are qualified to self-insure. There are stiff civil and criminal penalties for failure to provide the required coverage.
Workers’ compensation benefits include:
- Payment for hospitalization, reasonably necessary medical, surgical, and chiropractic treatment, medications, medical and surgical supplies and equipment.
- Physician costs, provided that the doctor is selected by the employer at the time of the injury. If the employee is not happy with the employer-selected doctor, they are entitled to select another from a panel of physicians selected by the employer. Refusal to follow the doctor’s instructions could jeopardize your right to compensation.
- Up to $6,500 for burial expenses.
- Weekly payments to replace lost wages during recovery from disability. The amount of the weekly payment is two-thirds of the employee’s average weekly earnings multiplied by a given number of weeks, depending on the disability:
• Death—500 weeks
• Permanent total disability—Unlimited
• Permanent partial disability—300 weeks
• Temporary total disability—Unlimited
• Temporary partial disability—300 weeks
Workers’ comp lawsuits must be filed with the proper court within 2 years after the accident. If weekly payments have already started, the complaint must be filed within 2 years after the last payment.
Personal injury claims in Alabama
A personal injury case is a lawsuit for damages caused by the negligent or intentional act of another. The plaintiff must prove the following:
- There was an injury to a person,
- The defendant engaged in a negligent or intentional act,
- The defendant had a duty of care that they breached, and
- The defendant’s act was the proximate cause of the injury.
The plaintiff must also prove the allowable damages, which are classified as compensatory or punitive damages.
Compensatory damages include economic damages and non-economic damages:
- Economic losses include medical bills, lost wages and other damages that can be measured by money.
- Non-economic losses include pain and suffering, mental anguish and loss of consortium (companionship).
If the plaintiff’s injuries are caused by a willful act, omission or gross negligence, the court or jury might award punitive (exemplary) as well as compensatory damages.
Punitive damages are meant to be a punishment or deterrent against such acts by the defendant or 3rd parties in the future.
Limitations of damage awards
Limitations on workers’ compensation benefits are specified by statute.
Generally, personal injury damages in Alabama are limited only by what a jury determines is fair and reasonable after considering all of the circumstances. Alabama imposes certain limitations only for certain limited cases.
- Punitive damages are limited to three times compensatory damages not to exceed $1.5 million.
- The highest damage award against a small business defendant cannot exceed the greater of $50,000 or 10 percent of the company’s net worth.
- Damages payable by a municipality may not exceed $100,000 per injured plaintiff or $300,000 per accident.
Personal injury and workers’ comp damages contrasted
Workers’ compensation benefits are succinctly defined and measured by statute. They are restricted to those specified. The amount of compensation is specifically limited depending on the nature and extent of the injury or disability.
Personal injury damages, with certain exceptions, are limited only to what a jury deems is fair and reasonable compensation.
The 2 major differences are:
- Personal injury damages include non-economic damages, including pain and suffering. Workers’ compensation benefits do not.
- Personal injury damages include possible punitive damages. Workers’ compensation benefits do not.
Can workers’ comp claims and personal injury claims be combined for the same accident?
Alabama workers’ comp laws follow the “exclusivity doctrine.” In exchange for a no-fault system and employer requirements to carry insurance coverage, the law provides that the injured worker’s exclusive remedy against the employer is the workers’ comp system.
But this law only limits the worker’s remedy against the employer. Sometimes an injury on the job is caused by the negligence or intentional act of a 3rd party. For example, an injured factory worker could have a workers’ compensation claim against his employer as well as a product liability claim against a 3rd-party machinery manufacturer.
Any personal injury recovery from a 3rd party for the same accident is offset against the workers’ compensation benefits.
When to contact an Alabama personal injury or workers’ comp attorney
Alabama workers’ compensation and personal injury laws are complicated, and it’s essential that you meet all necessary filing deadlines in order to receive compensation. If you’re injured on the job in Alabama, it’s best to contact an experienced personal injury lawyer with extensive workers’ compensation experience as soon as possible after any workplace injury.
At Nomberg Law Firm, we’ve been fighting for the rights of injured Alabama workers against insurance companies and corporations for more than 50 years. Our experienced personal injury and workers’ compensation attorneys can explain your rights, investigate your case and negotiate with the insurance company so you can focus on getting better.
About Nomberg Law Firm
Nomberg Law Firm has been helping people in Alabama recover fair compensation for their injuries since 1967. We know our clients are hard-working men and women who deserve the best representation possible.
We understand how hard it can be to pay your bills and get back on your feet while trying to recover from a serious injury. That’s why we dedicate our entire practice to fighting for your rights and obtaining maximum financial compensation.
The sheer number of clients at larger law firms means you’re one of many. As a small, family-owned injury law firm, we can focus on your needs, provide individualized assistance, and offer you one-on-one attention that larger firms simply cannot match.
Get the legal support you need to recover and move forward with your life.