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Are you eligible for workers' compensation benefits?

New York construction workers risk injury every day they go to work. Because of the nature of this work, the injuries you could suffer may keep you from working for a significant amount of time and the medical bills could quickly grow into a substantial amount. If you do suffer an injury, you're supposed to obtain benefits to help with medical expenses, lost wages and other needs while you recover.

Like most people, you probably know that workers' compensation exists, but what is it and how does it actually work? Put simply, it's an insurance program in which most employers participate. It is designed to provide you with a portion of your income, payment of your medical expenses and other benefits based on your situation after a work-related injury. However, things rarely turn out to be quite that simple.

You may not receive benefits under certain circumstances

Like any insurance company, if a reason exists to deny a claim, your employer or the insurance company could attempt to find one. Consider the following circumstances that could result in a denial of benefits:

  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Self-inflicted wounds
  • Violations of company policy
  • Violations of the law
  • Injuries suffered on personal time

Any of the above may jeopardize your right to receive benefits under workers' compensation. However, other factors could also mean you won't receive benefits.

Employment status and workers' compensation

Not every worker can receive benefits. The following work categories exclude a worker from eligibility:

  • Workers in private homes
  • Farmers and farmhands
  • Independent contractors
  • Casual workers
  • Business owners
  • Maritime workers
  • Railroad workers

Maritime and railroad workers fall into a different category and separate federal laws govern the benefits they receive if injured.

I'm a construction worker. I should receive benefits, right?

As long as you work for a contractor or subcontractor, you should receive workers' compensation benefits if you suffer an on-the-job injury. The benefits available to you could include the following:

  • Replacement income
  • Medical expenses for the work-related injury
  • Temporary or permanent disability
  • Job retraining
  • Survivors benefits to your family if you die while working

You'll notice that damages such as pain and suffering do not fall under these benefits. You could receive those types of damages if you file a lawsuit against your employer, but if you do, you give up your right to workers' compensation benefits.

How do I know whether to sue or accept benefits?

That decision depends on the circumstances surrounding your injury. If your employer's negligence was so egregious or your safety wasn't a concern for your employer, it may make more sense to file a lawsuit. Of course, you run the same risks by filing a personal injury claim as someone injured in, say, a car accident.

More than likely, you would benefit from help determining the best course of action under the circumstances. The advice and guidance of an attorney could prove invaluable when making this determination. If you choose to pursue workers' compensation benefits, he or she could help ensure that you receive the benefits to which you have a right. You should also know that a third party could bear some liability for your injuries, and you might pursue damages from that individual or company as well.

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