In prior posts about Missouri workers’ compensation law, we have referred to the system as a trade-off between employers and their employees. One of the biggest implications of that trade-off is that workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy that injured workers have for on-the-job accidents.
Given how workers’ compensation is strictly construed by courts and constantly tightened by the state legislature, this exclusivity will increasingly leave more and more hurt workers on their own.
The Exclusive Remedy Rule for Workers’ Compensation
In all states, workers’ compensation law is designed to streamline the compensation process for workers who have been hurt in a workplace accident. Where the state statute is not explicit about this, courts across the country have stepped in to say that victims hurt by accident in the workplace generally have only one way to remedy their situation: By filing a workers’ compensation claim.
This is the exclusive remedy rule.
Missouri’s workers’ compensation law is fairly clear that the system is a hurt worker’s exclusive remedy. Missouri Statute 287.120(2) says that workers’ compensation rights “shall exclude all other rights and remedies of the employee… on account of such injury or death by accident or occupational disease, except such rights and remedies as are not provided for by” Missouri’s workers’ compensation system.
What This Means: No Suing the Employer
The practical effect of the exclusive remedy rule is that injured workers cannot file a personal injury lawsuit against their employer for their role in the accident. Instead, they are funneled into the workers’ compensation system.
Employers frequently tout the expedited payout and easier claims process of workers’ comp. Victims of workplace accidents generally see disability benefits for their lost wages start coming in within a few weeks, and they do not have to prove that the employer behaved negligently before receiving the benefits.
However, there is a significant downside to the exclusive remedy rule.
The Exclusive Remedy Rule Always Leaves Victims Undercompensated
The exclusive remedy rule forces workplace accident victims to go through the workers’ compensation system. The benefits available under Missouri’s workers’ comp system, however, are limited to disability benefits to cover lost wages, and the costs of the victim’s medical treatment.
Those disability benefits do not even cover all of the worker’s lost wages: They are limited to two-thirds of their average weekly wage before the injury, capped at 105 percent of the state’s average weekly wage.
In contrast, workers who could sue their employer outside of the workers’ compensation system stand to recover compensation for the full amount of their:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Reduced earning capacity, if their injuries will keep them from working in the future
- Pain and suffering
Even the worker’s family can recover compensation for their loss of consortium with the victim.
Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office Serve Victims in Missouri
While it is more convenient, Missouri’s workers’ compensation system provides far less coverage than a successful personal injury claim. However, the exclusive remedy rule generally forces injured workers into the workers’ comp system.
In a subsequent blog post, we will look at the exceptions to the exclusive remedy rule, as well as how Missouri has taken steps to eliminate them, often at the expense of hurt workers.
If you or a loved one has been hurt at work in St. Joseph, Kansas City, Springfield, or the rest of western Missouri, call the workers’ compensation lawyers at the Smith Law Office at (816) 875-9373 or contact them online.