I lost a loved one on the job; can I sue?

Like all of the other states, Illinois has a workers’ compensation system in place to ensure the families of employees get some compensation when their loved one be killed or even seriously injured in connection with their work. Workers’ compensation also pays benefits to families who lose a loved-one due to a work-related illness, such as cancers related to asbestos exposure.

However, in exchange for these benefits, which get awarded on a no-fault basis and are supposed to be paid relatively quickly, families give up important rights, including the right to sue their loved one’s employer for wrongful death. Moreover, workers’ compensation does not pay for everything and definitely does not compensate for emotional damages like the mental anguish and suffering a grieving family faces after a tragic work-related death.

There are certain exceptions to this general rule, however, so a family shouldn’t automatically assume that workers’ compensation is their only remedy following a workplace death. For instance, an employer will remain fully responsible for any intentional injuries inflicted upon a worker. Perhaps more importantly, though, an employee’s family can still sue if they can show the injury for which they are suing does not fall within the purview of Illinois’ workers’ compensation system.

A common example of when this rule might apply would be if a Chicago-area employee gets hurt by a piece of equipment or a dangerous product while at work. The employee could still sue the maker of that product in court, even if the manufacturer of the product happens to be the person’s employer as well. In this case, the suit is not so much about an employee suing an employer, as any Illinois resident would be allowed to pursue compensation for a defective product.

While many Chicago work-related deaths at construction sites or in other venues will fall exclusively within the workers’ compensation system, a grieving family should not automatically assume that those benefits are all that are available to them.