Can I get compensated for pain and suffering through workers’ comp?

Workers' comp doesn't pay for pain and suffering, but you may receive additional benefits if the pain of a physical injury leads to a mental disorder.

Question:

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?

Answer:

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. 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 personal injury 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' comp 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 you've developed a mental or emotional disorder because of your physical work-related injury, you may receive extra compensation. For example, dealing with chronic pain from a workplace injuries might lead to depression or an inability to sleep. In that situation, the depression or sleep disorder would be considered a “compensable consequence” of the original work-related injury, and the injured worker would generally be able to get treatment and other benefits for the mental or emotional condition as part of the workers' comp case.

Also, there are circumstances when an injured worker can file a personal injury lawsuit against a third party (meaning someone other than the employer) who caused the work-related injuries. For example, if another driver was responsible for the accident in which you were injured, you can sue the driver (or his or her insurance company) and potentially receive compensation for your pain and suffering.

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