Our attorneys explain what you can do in a frustrating situation.
Pennsylvania law requires all employers to have workers' compensation insurance, but not every employer follows the law. If you're hurt at work and find out your employer is uninsured, you do have legal options. Exercising those options can be difficult, however, and you need an experienced workers' compensation lawyer on your side to help you navigate the process.
Understanding employers' obligations under the law
In Pennsylvania, it's mandatory for employers with at least one employee to provide workers' compensation that pays for medical care, partial replacement of lost wages, and certain other benefits for work injuries. Most employers meet this obligation by purchasing workers' compensation insurance, either from a private insurance company or from the State Workers' Insurance Fund (SWIF). Large, financially healthy companies can also ask the state for permission to self-insure.
However, some employers break the law and don't carry workers' compensation insurance. Although this can subject them to civil and criminal penalties, as the injured worker, you're more likely to be concerned about who will pay for your injury. Depending on the circumstances, you may have several options.
Can you sue your employer if they don't have workers' comp?
One option for workers in this situation is to take legal action directly against their uninsured employer, either through a negotiated settlement or a lawsuit. While this is always possible from a legal perspective, whether you can actually receive compensation this way depends on the situation.
"Refusing to carry insurance doesn't change your employer's obligations, so in theory, you can file a lawsuit and force them to pay your workers' comp benefits. Their assets might even be sold to pay for your injuries," says retired workers’ compensation judge and O’Malley & Langan attorney Joseph Grady. "However, employers that don't carry insurance often also don't have enough assets to pay for work injuries, so this may not work in practice."
This is why Pennsylvania has established a safety net for workers whose employers are uninsured.
You can get compensation through the Uninsured Employer Guaranty Fund.
The Uninsured Employer Guaranty Fund (UEGF) is a safety net established by the Pennsylvania legislature to pay workers' compensation benefits to employees of uninsured employers. If your employer broke the law and failed to carry workers' compensation, you can file a claim with the UEGF to get your workers' comp benefits.
"However, going through the UEGF isn't easy," says attorney Mary Anne Lucas. "There are strict deadlines that start the moment you find out your employer is uninsured. Plus, the UEGF will have a lawyer assigned to defend the claim, and as a state agency, they have legal protections beyond those of private insurance companies. Please, speak with one of our workers’ compensation lawyers who understands the system and can help level the playing field."
Depending on the circumstances, you may have other options as well.
As with any work injury, if you're injured by the negligence of a third party (someone other than your employer), you may file a third-party personal injury claim. For instance, this could apply if you were hurt on a construction site where multiple companies were working, or if you were involved in a work-related motor vehicle accident. It may also apply if you were injured by defective equipment manufactured by another company.
"The bottom line is that you need to talk to an attorney who can investigate your situation and identify all your options," says O'Malley & Langan Founder and Senior Partner Todd J. O'Malley. "We've been representing injured workers for more than 30 years, and we have a strong track record of success in difficult situations. If your employer is uninsured and you're not sure what to do next, give us a call."
Remember, you absolutely have legal rights, but you must act quickly to protect them. If you've been hurt at work in Pennsylvania, contact us online for a free, confidential consultation.