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What Happens When You Can’t Return To Work After An Accident?

Workers’ compensation benefits exist to help workers recover from accidents suffered in the workplace. After an injury at work, a workers’ compensation claim can help you recover losses such as medical bills and lost wages after your accident.

Workers’ compensation sometimes does not cover all the expenses associated with some on-the-job injuries, and those injured workers have options for securing additional compensation, such as filing a personal injury claim against a negligent employer or a product liability claim against a defective product manufacturer. However, what happens if your injury keeps you from returning to work at all?

Permanent Disabilities

In most personal injury cases, if the defendant (the person or party one is suing) caused you to suffer a permanent disability, you can collect compensation to cover the associated costs. This includes the future income you would have been reasonably expected to earn had you been able to return to work. If an injury prevents you from returning to your job, you have a few options, depending upon the nature of your injury and the circumstances surrounding your accident.

If your employer or a coworker was negligent in some way, and that negligence caused your accident and prevented you from resuming your job, the responsible party will be liable for your disability and resulting damages. You will need to file a personal injury lawsuit to collect compensation from these potential defendants.

Depending on the nature of your incident, a defective product may injure you in some way and prevent you from returning to work. For example, an improperly marked chemical agent causes severe respiratory damage if inhaled. The manufacturer did not mark this hazard on the package, nor did it instruct users to wear facial protection or a respirator. An employee using the agent suffers massive respiratory harm from fume inhalation, resulting in permanent damage that prevents the employee from resuming his or her usual job duties. Since the manufacturer failed to warn users of the health hazard and failed to instruct them to protect themselves, the manufacturer would be liable for the resulting disability.

Losing Your Job After an Accident

In some cases, an injured employee may return to work after an injury only to find that someone else has filled his or her position, or the employer cannot accommodate the employee’s impairments. Almost every state operates under an “at-will” employment policy. In basic terms, “at-will employment” means either an employee or his or her employer can terminate employment at any time, for any reason (or no reason at all), with or without prior notice.

With some exceptions, at-will employees have very few options when it comes to termination. The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission exist to ensure American employees do not face discrimination for disabilities. However, it’s important to note this applies only to disabilities that interfere with the work in question. Additionally, if the costs of accommodating an employee’s new disabilities are untenable, the employer cannot be considered discriminatory if it couldn’t reasonably be expected to cover the costs.

Contractual employment is a bit different. If an employee’s contract guarantees employment for a certain period, unless there is specific verbiage in the contract stipulating loss of employment due to the manifestation of a disability, the employer cannot terminate employment unless the employee violates his or her end of the contract.

An accident may leave you disabled temporarily, in some cases. If so, workers’ compensation benefits will likely cover your lost wages and medical bills. However, temporary disability benefits usually entail maximum rates or caps as to how much you can receive in assistance. Some workers’ compensation programs will also provide vocational rehabilitation if you can’t resume your previous job. Vocational rehabilitation provides you with a portion of your usual income while you train for a new job.


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