Can an Employee Sue Me In Civil Court?

The workers’ compensation system has existed in California for decades.  Workers’ compensation provides protection for both employees and employers, as it sets out rights and responsibilities for both parties in order to receive the benefits of the system.  One main benefit for employers is that in most cases, an employee cannot sue the employer in civil court based on the work-related injury.  However, there is an important exception to this rule found in California Labor Code 3706.

California Labor Code 3706 provides that “If any employer fails to secure the payment of compensation, any injured employee or his dependents may bring an action at law against such employer for damages, as if this subdivision did not apply.”  In other words, if an employer has failed to maintain workers’ compensation insurance, as is required by most employers in California, then the worker is not prevented from filing for compensation for his or her work-related injuries in civil court.  Conversely, if the employer maintains appropriate workers’ compensation insurance in accordance with the law, the employee is prevented from bringing a civil suit against the employer for negligence and is required to proceed under workers’ compensation to recover for his or her work-related injuries.  Moreover, Labor Code 3715 goes on to say that when an employer is illegally uninsured, the employee is not limited to filing in civil court; rather, the employee may bring both a claim before the workers’ compensation appeals board and also decide to pursue the employer in civil court.

If the employee decides to sue the employer for negligence in civil court, there are important differences from a typical negligence suit.  First, the employee must plead and prove that the employer failed to carry workers’ compensation insurance before the civil court will have jurisdiction to hear the claim.  More importantly, the burden of proof shifts.  In typical civil cases of negligence, the plaintiff has the burden to prove the defendant acted negligently.  In these cases, however, Labor Code 3708 provides that the defendant employer has the burden of proof to rebut the presumption that the employer acted negligently.  The employee must only prove that the injury occurred during the course and scope of employment.

If your business is facing a workers’ compensation suit and you are concerned about a civil suit, contact us today.  We can help you understand the process and how to protect your business going forward.

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