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Workers compensation insurance is a two-way street: Employees are covered for medical expenses following an accident and employers are protected against costly civil lawsuits.

“Workers compensation is a no-fault system, which means medical expenses are covered even if an accident is caused by employee error,” says Jeffrey M. Adelson, General Counsel and Managing Partner of the National Practice Group, Adelson, Testan, Brundo, Novell & Jimenez, Santa Ana, Calif. (

“In some states, reimbursement might be denied if injuries are intentional or the result of intoxication or drug use. You need to check with your attorney on how your own state handles these issues.”

While employers cannot generally be sued by injured workers, some states allow employees to sue for what is called “serious and willful misconduct.” That refers to employer behavior that goes beyond mere negligence, that is so wanton that the employer should have known an injury might occur. An example might be deliberately removing ergonomic improvements to equipment or furniture.

Employers can also be sued for what the law calls “retaliatory discharge,” a term which refers to the termination or punishment of an employee who has filed a workers compensation claim. “You cannot discriminate against someone who files, or seeks to file, a workers compensation claim,” says Adelson.