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Legal remedies for construction injuries outside of workers’ compensation

While workers’ compensation is known to be the exclusive remedy for injured workers, California law actually allows lawsuits in addition to workers’ comp in certain circumstances.

Workers’ compensation is normally the exclusive legal remedy for any injury or illness obtained in the course of employment, including those suffered by California construction workers. The foundation of workers’ compensation is that an injured worker automatically gets benefits provided by the employer regardless of who was at fault in exchange for waiving the right to sue the employer.

However, it is important for construction workers to know that they should consult an experienced attorney as early as possible after a work injury to explore whether a narrow exception may apply that would also allow a lawsuit for the injury against a third party or the employer.

A personal injury lawsuit may allow an injured construction worker to collect money damages for their pain and suffering or for other losses not compensated for by workers’ compensation.

Third-party suits

While workers’ compensation law normally prevents legal action against the employer, California law allows suits against other people and parties who may have caused the injury or illness through negligence. Examples of such parties include:

  • The manufacturer, distributor or seller of defective or dangerous equipment or machinery that contributed to the injury through malfunction or inherent danger
  • The landlord, owner or property manager of premises on which the injury occurred if the owner or renter did not repair, correct or warn of latent or undetectable defects or dangers on the property such as a faulty furnace that exploded or unabated asbestos
  • The service provider that provided faulty repair or maintenance to equipment or machinery
  • And others

Employer lawsuits

If an employer’s failure to comply with workplace safety laws like the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and that failure caused the injury, this creates a narrow exception to the inability to sue the employer for resulting workplace harm.

Other circumstances may allow an injured worker to sue their employer. For example:

  • Negligent employer behavior outside the employer-employee relationship may have caused the injury
  • The employer violated a law or acted in conflict with public policy during conduct that harmed the worker
  • The employer willfully assaulted the employee
  • The employer aggravated the injury through fraudulently hiding it
  • The employer manufactured a defective machine, tool or other product that caused the injury
  • The employer failed to provide or purchase workers’ compensation insurance coverage as required by law
  • And others


The workers’ compensation bar on lawsuits against an employer also extends to suits against co-employees, except that an injured worker may sue a coworker who while intoxicated intentionally and without provocation assaulted the worker. Another exception applies if the co-employee injured the worker outside the scope of employment.

An experienced California lawyer can examine the factual circumstances of a construction worker injury to determine whether any third-party or employer civil lawsuits may be viable.

Attorney Bryan Snyder of the San Diego Law Office of Bryan R, Snyder, APC, represents construction workers injured or sickened on the job in third-party and other lawsuits seeking recovery from responsible parties beyond workers’ compensation benefits. He also advocates for the surviving loved ones of construction workers killed on the job.