Under Pennsylvania workers’ comp, can I recover for pain and suffering or emotional distress due to my injury?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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It is not generally possible to recover for pain and suffering and other similar damages in the workers comp system. Under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, the employee is precluded from suing the employer for pain, suffering, disability, or for causing the employee’s injury. The only benefits that the injured worker can recover are wage loss benefits and medical expenses for the work-related injury.

Why can’t I recover pain & suffering?

This limitation is in place in part because allowing these sorts of damages would basically require a trial – and all of the resources that a trial requires. Allowing this would defeat the underlying purpose of the workers compensation system itself, which is to provide a better, faster, and cheaper means of addressing the direct costs of workplace injuries.

Another way to look at the workers comp system…

It may be easier to think of it as an exchange. As an employee, provided that your injury fits the legal requirements for having occurred in the performance your job-related duties, you will receive payment on your claim without having to prove in court that your employer was negligent – a very hefty burden. In exchange for this kind of insurance setup, you lose the rights that would otherwise have come with a trial, e.g. – recovering a damage award on a case-by-case basis for non-economic damages, such as emotional distress, pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and loss of enjoyment of life’s pleasures.

Of course, winning in court is never easy, so you may not have even lost anything – after all, you’d have to take your employer to court, attempt to prove your employer was at fault (and all the other elements of a negligence action), and after all that time and expense, you’d still be entrusting your fate to the judge and jury for determining the actual damages award. The workers comp payment scheme is not perfect, but some would say it’s better than that alternative. 

Getting Legal Help

If your situation does not fall under Pennsyvlania’s workers compensation system, then it may be possible for you to recover your damages in court. To be sure all of your rights are protected, and to minimize your chances of getting caught up in a long and unnecessary legal battle, you should pursue an initial consultation with an experienced Pennsylvania Workers Comp attorney. S/he can guide you down the best possible legal path.

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