Frequently Asked Questions - Can I Sue My Employer For Emotional Distress?
In a workers’ compensation claim, there is no provision for payment of damages for emotional distress. In most cases, you do not get to choose whether you want to pursue a workers’ compensation claim versus a personal injury lawsuit. When you are injured on the job, you are typically only able to receive workers’ compensation benefits from your employer and thus, you cannot receive money for emotional distress..
The only way you would be able to sue your employer for emotional distress (even if your employer was negligent and caused your accident to occur) is if your case falls outside the realm of workers’ compensation law. This means that you cannot file a typical lawsuit against your employer for damages related to a work related accident/injury except in the very specific situations discussed below. An injured worker’s “exclusive remedy” is to seek workers’ compensation benefits (as opposed to suing in the circuit court where you would be able to sue for emotional distress) with only limited exceptions discussed below.
First, if your employer did not maintain adequate workers’ compensation insurance at the time of your accident when required to do so AND your accident was caused by the employer’s negligence, you may have the option to sue your employer under a personal injury theory instead of workers’ compensation, Again, this is only in very specific situations where the employer did not properly maintain workers’ compensation coverage at the time of your accident and the employer was negligent in some way resulting in your accident/injuries. In those situations, you could seek payment for emotional distress as part of your personal injury claim in circuit court. It should be noted that if your employer does have workers’ compensation insurance but simply denies all or a portion of your claim, you are typically unable to pursue a lawsuit against your employer in circuit court. Your case would remain under the jurisdiction of the workers’ compensation system.
Another scenario where you can sue your employer outside of workers’ compensation (and thus, sue for emotional distress) is if your employer intentionally hurt you. Even if your employer was negligent or otherwise responsible for your injuries, you cannot sue your employer unless it was done intentionally with the specific intent of harming you. Mere negligence or carelessness, even if your accident could have easily been prevented, is insufficient to enable you to seek benefits outside the workers’ compensation arena and into the circuit court. Being able to prove that your employer intentionally injured you can often be a difficult hurdle to overcome.
In addition to mental distress, workers’ compensation provides nothing for pain and suffering, scarring, disfigurement, loss of consortium/companionship and loss of future earning capacity. In fact, there are only two possible types of benefits available to an injured worker in a workers’ compensation claim. Those two types of benefits include the provision of medical care and payment of lost wages.
In some cases, there are mental or emotional injuries associated with your industrial accident. And, while you can receive medical care as a result of mental or emotional injuries, your right to such benefits is extremely limited in the Florida workers’ compensation system. Current workers’ compensation law holds that, “A mental or nervous injury due to stress, fright, or excitement only is not an injury accident arising out of employment. Nothing in this section shall be construed to allow for the payment of benefits under this chapter for mental or nervous injuries without an accompanying physical injury requiring medical treatment. A physical injury resulting from mental or nervous injuries unaccompanied by physical trauma requiring medical treatment shall not be compensable under this chapter.”
This means that while you cannot sue your employer for emotional distress, you can receive medical care for these types of injuries as long as the injured worker also suffered some type of physical injury. If the injury suffered in your on-the-job accident did not involve a physical injury, the psychiatric injury is not covered. The statutes further state that compensation is not payable for the mental, psychological or emotional injury arising out of depression from being out of work, depression from losing employment opportunities, preexisting mental conditions and emotional conditions due to pain or other subjective complaints that cannot be confirmed by objective medical evidence. Additionally, the evidence must show that the physical injury is and remains at least 50% responsible for the manifestation of a mental injury.
And, the law further states that payment of temporary benefits for a compensable mental or nervous injury is to be paid for no more than six months after the date of maximum medical improvement for the injured worker’s physical injury. And, payment of impairment income benefits upon being placed at MMI are limited to a 1% permanent impairment rating for permanent psychiatric impairments.
Please note that “first responders” are not bound to the same standards and law related to mental or emotional injuries. First responders are defined as firefighters, law enforcement officers, emergency medical technicians, or paramedics. If you fall into this category, there are several exceptions to the laws stated above. For example, a physical injury is not required for a first responder. First responders are entitled to medical benefits for a mental or nervous injury, even if not accompanied by a physical injury. However, first responders are not entitled to lost wage benefits unless a physical injury accompanies the mental injury.
If you are having mental or emotional issues as a result of your accident, be sure to advise your authorized doctors and document it on all paperwork. If your treating doctor refers or recommends you to a psychiatrist or psychologist or some other mental health professional for evaluation and possible treatment, you should be able to receive such care under your workers’ compensation claim. If you are unable to obtain a written recommendation for a mental health evaluation or treatment from an authorized physician, your employer, and their insurance carrier are not obligated to authorize it. If you are having mental or emotional problems that you believe are related to your on-the-job accident and are unable to obtain authorized medical care for these conditions, you should immediately seek the advice of a lawyer specializing in workers’ compensation.