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Can I Sue My Employer for a Work Injury in Tennessee?

For most people in Tennessee, whether you live in Memphis, Jackson, Knoxville, Nashville, or Chattanooga, we get up each day and go to work. Workers rely on their paychecks to take care of everyday necessities – rent, mortgage, utilities, food, childcare, bills and more. What happens if one day, you go to work like you always do, but when performing your job duties, you get hurt? All of the sudden, you start to worry about your health and how you can get better. Another concern is your paycheck, and how bills could start to pile up.

Suffering a work-related injury is stressful. Sometimes there can be animosity towards a co-worker or the employer itself, especially when the injured employee thinks his or her employer did something to cause the injury. A question commonly asked by injured Tennessee workers is this: can I sue my employer for a work injury?

The Exclusive Remedy Rule

In Tennessee, work-related injuries sustained on or after July 1, 2014 typically fall within Tennessee’s workers’ compensation laws, codified at Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-101. This set of laws governs workers’ compensation claims, including the timeframe within which an injured employee must give notice of the injury, temporary disability benefits, permanent disability benefits, and medical benefits.

On many occasions, courts have had to interpret Tennessee’s workers’ compensation laws to determine whether an injured employee has the right to file a workers’ compensation claim, sue his employer, or both. A recent Tennessee Court of Appeals case that tackled this issue was Williams v. Buraczynski.  The underlying injury happened in a car accident caused by the victim’s co-worker, who was driving, during the course and scope of employment. The victim promptly filed a workers’ compensation claim, and the company’s insurance carrier paid out medical and wage benefits pursuant to Tennessee law. Then, the victim filed a separate lawsuit against his co-worker for negligence in causing the accident.

After suit was filed, the co-worker moved for summary judgment, arguing the victim already received workers’ compensation benefits and Tennessee law, via Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-108, stated “the rights and remedies granted to an employee [in workers’ compensation], on account of personal injury…shall exclude all other rights or remedies of the employee.” The trial court agreed and dismissed the case. The victim appealed.

On appeal, the Tennessee Court of Appeals ultimately agreed with the co-worker and upheld the summary judgment ruling to dismiss the case. The court acknowledged that injured employees can recover damages against negligent third parties, but a co-worker acting in the course and scope of employment does not fall under that category.

Exception to the Exclusive Remedy Rule

While most on the job injuries in Tennessee are exclusively governed by workers’ compensation, there are exceptions. The most notable exception is referred to as the “intentional tort exception.” Under this rule, workers’ compensation exclusivity may not apply if an employer/employee commits an intentional tort against another employee. However, to take advantage of this provision, the injured employee must prove the employer acted with “actual intent to injure.” As one can imagine, this is a high standard to meet.

If you have been injured at work, an experienced workers’ compensation attorney can guide you through the process. In addition to recovering rightful benefits for medical bills and expenses, mileage, and lost wages, you also could have a valid third party claim for negligence. Nahon, Saharovich & Trotz is a large regional personal injury law firm, and we help injured workers across the South and Tennessee, including cities like Memphis, Knoxville, Jackson, Nashville, Chattanooga, Murfreesboro, Maryville, Clarksville, and anywhere in between. For a free consultation with a Tennessee lawyer about your personal injury case, call our law firm 24/7 at 800-529-4004 or visit us online.