I was in a bad car accident a few months ago while running a work errand. I had surgery on my arm, and my back hasn’t improved much even after several rounds of physical therapy. I’m still in a lot of pain, and I’m constantly frustrated about not being able to do simple tasks or the hobbies that I used to enjoy. Is this something I can get compensated for in my workers’ comp case?
What you are referring to is called “pain and suffering” in legal lingo. Pain and suffering includes the physical pain and discomfort that your injuries have caused you. It also includes all of the negative emotions you have experienced as a result of your injuries, such as frustration, sadness, anger, humiliation, and the like. In fact, anything that has decreased your enjoyment of life can qualify as pain and suffering, such as not being able to participate in your favorite activities.
Pain and suffering is an item of damages that you can get in a lawsuit, but not through worker’s comp. The workers’ compensation system was designed to streamline the process of resolving claims between injured workers and their employers. But, this came with a tradeoff. While employees now have an easier time getting workers' compensation benefits from their employers (because they don’t have to prove their employers were at fault), their compensation is usually limited to payments for medical bills and wage loss.
However, if your injuries have caused negative emotions that have developed into a mental or emotional disorder, you might be able to recover through workers’ comp. For example, a worker who has been diagnosed with depression as a result of dealing with chronic pain caused by his injuries may be able to recover benefits. (For more information, see Nolo’s article, California Workers’ Comp: Recovering for Mental or Emotional Injuries.) Likewise, workers who have developed sleep disorders because their injuries keep them up at night may be able to recover benefits through workers’ comp. However, these are not considered items of damages (like pain and suffering), but separate grounds for filing worker’s comp claims and recovering benefits.
Some workers, including you, have another avenue for recovering for pain and suffering, though: a civil lawsuit. When there is a third party who caused your injuries, you can bring a personal injury claim against that party in court. For example, if another driver caused the accident in which you were injured, you can sue the driver (or his or her insurance company) and get compensated for your pain and suffering.