Updated: Jan 22
Workers' Compensation is a form of no-fault insurance. Before New York adopted Workers' Compensation laws, the injured workers' only remedy was to sue his/her employer in the courts, like in personal injury suits. It could be years before the employee would see an outcome, and a totally disabled worker would often be left with no income in the meantime. The employer, who evidently could afford the better lawyers, had the upper hand during the lawsuit, and would generally ultimately win the lawsuit, often on the premise that the worker assumed the risk of employment, or that the injury was caused by the workers' negligence or that of a co-worker.
With the enactment of Workers' Compensation laws, virtually every employer in New York is required to carry Workers' Compensation insurance, and cannot ask the employee to contribute to those costs. If an employee gets injured on the job, regardless of whose negligence that was, that employee is guaranteed both medical care and weekly cash benefits paid for by the Insurance Carrier (or by the employer if the employer is self-insured) provided that all the elements of the employee's claim are met.
In exchange for this no-fault system that guarantees benefits in the event of a work injury, the employee loses his/her rights to sue their employer for negligence. It does not matter whether they did not properly follow legal requirements for safety procedures, or that they knew or should have known that such accidents could have happened and did nothing to prevent them. The only exception to this rule is if the employer intentionally harms the employee.
Despite the fact that the employee cannot sue his/her employer, there may still be a third-party claim or a labor law claim related to a work accident. Strict liability rules for construction site accidents, as well as products liability for defective machinery or equipment, or negligence suits for improper maintenance by a third party may be available avenues depending on the facts of the case.