Why Can’t I Sue My Employer for a Workplace Accident?

Work Injury

In most states, including Illinois, employees are not permitted to sue their employers for workplace injuries. The reason for this is that they are typically covered by their employers’ workers’ compensation insurance.

The Workers’ Compensation Compromise

Workers’ compensation covers most work injuries regardless of fault or liability. Illinois workers’ comp laws are particularly favorable toward workers, meaning you’re likely to be covered in the event that you are hurt on the job.

No Personal Injury Damages

The tradeoff is that you can’t sue your employer directly for your injury, even if it resulted from some form of negligence on their part. That means you won’t be able to recover compensation for pain and suffering or other noneconomic damages.

No Contributory Negligence

While this system may seem like a downside, the system overall is intended to benefit workers. Without worker’s compensation, your employer might try to deny you coverage on the grounds that you knowingly assumed risks when taking the job or were in some way liable for your own injuries.

Overall, the no-fault system protects workers from exploitive employment practices.

Exceptions to the Rule

While laws generally prevent employees from suing their employers, there are a number of exceptions to that rule.

Intentional Actions

In most cases, you can only sue your employer if they intended to harm you. If your injuries are the result of a deliberate effort to cause harm, you’ll likely have grounds for an employer’s tort. Some examples of this include:

  • Assault and battery, including the threat of assault
  • False imprisonment without legal authority
  • Fraud (in cases where it caused you an injury)
  • Defamation (where their saying something false about you causes an injury)
  • Intentionally causing emotional distress
  • Invasion of privacy

Again, these actions need to be intentional. If your employer was simply negligent, that won’t be enough to warrant a lawsuit.


Another major exception goes for railroad workers. The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) allows you to sue your employer for negligence if it caused you an injury in the course of working for a railroad company. You’ll likely have a case if the following apply:

  • You work for a railroad company that engages in interstate commerce.
  • Your employer failed to provide a safe working environment.
  • That failure resulted in your injury.

Even if an employee of the railroad technically caused your accident, that liability can still be placed on your employer, permitting a lawsuit.

Knowing Your Options

If you have been injured at work, it is important to know your options. Most workers’ compensation cases are fairly straightforward—if you were injured on the job, then you can claim benefits to cover your injury.

Lawsuits generally aren’t permitted except in the cases listed above, but if your case does involve those factors, then a personal injury suit may be the better route. You’ll often have access to higher, and it will serve to prevent your employer from engaging in intentionally harmful practices in the future.

In either situation, you will want the guidance of a workers’ compensation attorney to help you pursue the best course possible.

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