Can You Get Workers' Compensation for Pain and Suffering?

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.

By , J.D., University of Missouri School of Law

If a workplace illness or injury has left you in debilitating pain, in a battle with depression, or unable to enjoy your favorite activities, you might feel entitled to specific compensation to cover those issues, referred to in legal lingo as "pain and suffering."

What Is Pain and Suffering in a Personal Injury Case?

In legal terms, pain and suffering includes the physical 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.

Does Workers' Comp Pay for Pain and Suffering?

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.

Workers' Comp for "Compensable Consequences" of Injury

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.

Can I Sue My Employer for Pain and Suffering?

In certain circumstances, you can sue your employer outside of the workers' comp system for injuries that happened at work. In such cases, your monetary damages can include pain and suffering.

The most common situations in which you can file a lawsuit against your employer instead of (or in addition to) filing for workers' comp include:

  • illness or injury caused by exposure to a toxic substance at work
  • injuries that resulted from purposeful conduct rather than accidents or negligence
  • if your employer didn't carry workers' comp insurance, or
  • certain injuries caused by defective machinery, tools, or equipment.

Read more about when you can sue your employer outside of workers' comp.

Suing a Third Party for a Workplace Injury

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.

Contact a Workers' Comp Attorney

If you suffered a serious workplace injury or illness that led to significant pain and suffering, don't try to handle your workers' comp case on your own. An experienced workers' comp attorney can negotiate with your employer on your behalf, and present your case in the most favorable light to the workers' comp judge.

An attorney can also advise you on whether you should file a personal injury suit against your employer or a third party, which could entitle you to specific damages for the pain and suffering you experienced.

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