In Wisconsin the workers compensation employer cannot be sued for negligence, except in very limited circumstances. In 1911 a grand bargain was entered into by representatives of employees and employers in Wisconsin when the nation’s first worker’s compensation act became law. Employees hurt on the job gave up the right to sue their employers but instead would receive workers compensation benefits. The workers compensation benefits would be less than the actual damages for losses available in tort lawsuits. However, the workers compensation benefits would be paid more quickly and most importantly, the employee need not prove any fault or negligence on the employer, only that the injury happened at work. The schedule of workers compensation benefits allowed employers and worker’s compensation insurance companies, to project and prepare for injured employee losses with more certainty, creating a more stable, affordable business environment.
While it seems the employees gave up a lot in terms of lower benefits/damages, the fact is it was very difficult and almost impossible to successfully sue an employer in tort. First, there would be no case unless the employer did something wrong, was in fact negligent, and that negligence caused the employee’s injury. Many on the job injuries happen when its nobody’s fault, or even, the employee’s fault. Under workers compensation law, the injured employee can still get benefits; that would not happen under a tort law claim. Secondly, even if an employer was negligent in causing an on the job injury, many employers had employees sign waivers prohibiting the employees from suing the employer ever, even if the employer did something wrong. Finally, tort law itself made it very hard for injured people, including employees, to successfully sue anyone. Concepts like contributory negligence and immunities made claims for damages difficult if not impossible. Workers compensation has been an unmitigated success for both employers and employees.
There are several narrow exceptions to the exclusive remedy rule of worker’s compensation but there are two instances where on the job injuries allow for tort liability on someone. If an employee is hurt on job by an employee of a different employer, not his own employer, then there could be a tort claim against the non co-employee and his employer. Another instance is when co-employees are driving in a vehicle not owned or leased by their employer, there could be a tort claim against the negligent co-employee and his personal automobile insurance.
McCormick Law Office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin represents injured employees in both workers compensation claims and third-party negligence claims. Attorneys get the best results after knowing the facts and applying the law. Quality representation and client satisfaction are priorities leading to partnership of trust and respect.