Workers’ Compensation: Exclusive Remedy Provisions
In 2010, close to 3.1 million nonfatal on-the-job illnesses and injuries were reported within the private business sector. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this translates to 3.5 occurrences per every 100 full-time workers just last year. This statistic may leave many employees wondering what type of remedies for damages they have in place when contemplating a work-related injury.
New Mexico requires employers to have workers’ compensation insurance policies, as outlined in the Workers’ Compensation Act. The state legislature created the Act to ensure that all workers are provided some guaranteed benefits in the event of a work-related injury.
The implied intent was to provide an orderly, cost-effective, and streamlined approach to employee remedies for on-the-job injuries. It is a “no-fault” system, which is meant to avoid lengthy disputes regarding blame and responsibility. Purportedly, it is for the protection of the worker. In reality, in cases of serious personal injuries, it is more for the protection of the employer.
What many may not know is that the Act also includes an “exclusive remedy” provision. This provision states that a worker injured on the job may only recover compensation through the procedures outlined in the Act. Upon hiring, the employee surrenders the right to seek restitution against the employer for work injuries through a personal injury lawsuit.
The exclusive remedy provision protects employers from potentially large jury verdicts for the employer's conduct that results in injuries to its employees. Unfortunately, employers receive protection for their negligent, grossly negligent and even reckless behavior, while an injured employee receives nominal worker's compensation benefits for what are often catastrophic injuries.
New Mexico courts have have adopted a “willful and intentional” standard. This is only a slight improvement over the traditional “actual intent test.” Actual intent is where an employer means actual harm toward an employee. Willful and intentional is eerily similar, but means that an employer reasonably expects an act to cause harm, for which the employer totally disregards or fully expects injuries will occur.
The broad protection afforded employers in New Mexico can make a workers’ compensation claim less than beneficial to the injured worker. Unfortunately, if a case falls under the exclusivity provisions of the Worker's Compensation Act, then there simply can be no recovery for personal injuries beyond the limits of the Act.