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Understanding the basics of the workers' compensation program

At its most basic level, workers' compensation benefits are designed to protect workers who are injured on the job. Workers' compensation benefits are intended to ensure that injured or disabled workers receive monetary assistance and financial compensation, instead of forcing then to bring a legal claim for damages against an employer. Workers' compensation death benefits for surviving family members are designed to also provide protections for surviving family members of workers who are killed on the job or die as a result of a work-related illness.

Federal workers' compensation laws apply to federal workers and workers who are engaged in interstate commerce. States, however, have similar workers' compensation programs that apply to workers in their states, subject to certain exceptions and restrictions. Although workers' compensation programs alleviate employer liability and liability of negligent co-workers, if an employee is injured by a third party, the worker may still be able to bring a claim for damages against that third party. In most circumstances, workers must not have willfully caused their injuries or been intoxicated at the time of the workplace accident that resulted in injuries in order to be eligible to receive workers' compensation benefits.

Workers who are injured on the job or who suffer a workplace illness can also suffer a ripple effect of damages and harm in their lives and into their futures in some circumstances. Because of the serious impact a workplace accident or injury can have in the life of a worker, workers' compensation is available to injured employees to help mitigate the extensive harm that a workplace accident, injury or illness can cause. Workers may be able to recover for their lost wages and medical expenses and additional benefits may be available to surviving family members of a loved one who has been killed or injured on the job.

The workers' compensation process and benefits may sometimes seem complex, complicated and overwhelming. Because the workers' compensation process is available to help workers, it is important for workers to understand their rights and entitlement to benefits when harmed on the job and are familiar with their legal rights and protections.

Source: Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute, "Workers Compensation," accessed May 19, 2015

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