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Can I Sue My Employer for Work Injuries?

This is a very common question. The answer is almost always, “No, you cannot sue your employer for injuries that occur at work.”  However, there are a number of rules and issues that you should understand to fully protect your rights to compensation for work related injuries.

Most Workplace Injuries Are Covered By Workers’ Compensation

There are a number of things to keep in mind. First, the question and the answer presume that you are talking about a personal injury lawsuit and not a worker’s compensation claim. If so, the answer above stands.

To be clear, if you are injured at work, your will have a workers’ compensation claim.  There are situations where you would also have a personal injury claim.

To be clear, you are entitled to benefits under New Mexico’s worker’s compensation laws. There may also be exceptions allowing you to sue your employer.  Most importantly and far more common, you may be able to sue third parties who caused or contributed to your injury as addressed below.

Rare Exceptions to New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Act Exclusive Remedy Provisions

The Worker’s Compensation Act, and the benefits derived therefrom, is in fact the basis for the answer above and why you can rarely sue your employer for injuries at work. It is referred to as the exclusive remedy provision, meaning you are entitled only to worker’s compensation benefits from your employer and nothing else.

This includes when the employer caused your injuries, the employer was negligent and even in cases where the employer was grossly negligent.

Employer Failure to Comply with Workers’ Compensation Act Requirements

There are not many protections for workers injured on the job in New Mexico.  In fact, the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Act, the very act that presumably protects workers is the primary limitation on fair and complete recovery.  Under the Act, the employer is protected against personal injury claims by the worker even where the employer was negligent or even grossly negligent.

The primary basis for waiving protections under the Act is failure to maintain insurance.

However, the protections of the Workers’ Compensation Act are limited to those employers that are in compliance.  What does this mean?  Basically, it means that the employer has maintained workers’ compensation insurance.  There are other more technical requirements that in theory could jeopardize protection but these would be extremely rare.  The primary basis for waiving protections under the Act is failure to maintain insurance.

The Delgado Exception to New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Claims

The Delgado exception is an important exception but is extremely limited in scope.  Gross negligence is not enough.  The conduct must be reckless and wanton. 
There is an extremely rare exception to the prohibition against suing your employer called the Delgado exception. Delgado v. Phelps Dodge set forth the requirements for a personal injury claim against the employer.

The claim in Delgado was actually a wrongful death claim. The facts were beyond outrageous. The employer basically sent the employee into a fiery cauldron where he burned to death, and this outcome was pretty well assured from the outset.

The Delgado standard basically requires just that—that the employer sends the employee into a very dangerous and unnecessary situation where serious harm or death is virtually certain. In short, it is a very difficult standard to overcome, overwhelmingly favoring the employer.

The Third Party Exception to New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Claims

The most important and common exception to the exclusive remedy provisions under the Workers’ Compensation Act is third party liability.
As mentioned, you may recover against third parties who caused or contributed to the accident that caused your injuries. These are treated just like any other personal injury claim. It matters very little that it occurred at work.

Third party liability is not precisely an exception to the Act though it is discussed as such.  More precisely, it falls outside the Act.  In short, you are simply suing a non-employer for personal injuries suffered as a result of that party’s negligence.

There are a host of situations that give rise to third party liability. This would include auto accidents, equipment failures, negligent contractors or their employees, and so on.

If you are injured at work, it is important to determine whether there is possible third party liability. Without it, you will soon find the benefits under the Worker’s Compensation Act are woefully inadequate in cases of serious personal injury or wrongful death.

Very Limited Recovery in the Absence of an Exception

Only by way of an exception will a seriously injured worker and his or her family have a chance and full and fair compensation.
The New Mexico Workers’s Compensation Act is anything but friendly to injured workers.  In cases of serious personal injury or wrongful death, the Act will not come close to fully compensating an injured worker or family.

It is critical to find an exception if you are to be fully and fairly compensated.  To do this, you will typically need the assistance of an experienced work injury attorney.   Get your case reviewed as soon as possible after the accident, it may be important in identifying an exception.