The Workers' Compensation law resulted from a compromise which was struck many years ago between employers and employees. The concern was that the overall relationship between employers and their employees would suffer if employees were constantly filing suit for personal injuries which they sustained on the job, and that this would, in turn, harm business as a whole. Consequently, some trade-offs were made, and Workers' Compensation became the "exclusive remedy" available, under most circumstances, to a person who was injured on the job.
The primary trade-off is that employees gave up some of the damages which they would otherwise be entitled to under Personal Injury law (also called "Tort" law), for example, recovery for "pain and suffering", "loss of enjoyment of life" and "loss of consortium." In exchange, employers agreed that negligence would not be at issue, i.e. an employee who is totally at fault for causing an accident could still recover Workers' Compensation benefits from their employer or their employer's insurance company.
The only exception to the Exclusive Remedy rule mentioned above is the extremely rare situation where an employer is deemed by a court to be responsible for an "intentional act" which resulted in injury or death to their employee. In that case the employee can then sue their employer for full tort damages. However, to rise to such a level, the courts have determined that the injury must have been "substantially certain" to occur based on the employer's actions. Consequently, not even "wanton or reckless" conduct on the part of an employer is sufficient. Putting an employee in a dangerous situation, over and over again and without safety equipment, still does not rise to the level necessary to qualify as an intentional act.
If you have been injured by some sudden, identifiable event while working, chances are you have a Workers' Compensation claim. The accident causing the injuries can be something as routine as a carpenter hitting his thumb with a nail or a maintenance man injuring his back while moving a desk. Most injuries which occur suddenly, as result of some sort of an event, while a person is in the course and scope of their employment, will qualify for Workers' Compensation benefits, because the law is designed to be "liberally construed" so as to provide coverage to the injured employee.
For example, injuries which happen on a lunch break or while "horse playing" can qualify for Workers' Compensation benefits if the accident occurred on the employer's premises or on the job site. Additionally, motor vehicle accidents which result in injury can qualify for benefits under certain circumstances, for instance, if the employee was driving a company vehicle or running an errand for the employer. Finally, certain developmental injuries which result from a person's employment, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, are also covered.
The law additionally provides that, if a work-related injury "aggravates, accelerates, or combines with" a pre-existing disease or injury, and results in disability or death, it will qualify as a Workers' Compensation claim. In a nutshell, if you are not experiencing any symptoms from a pre-existing injury, and a sudden incident/accident on the job causes you to begin having pain or other symptoms, chances are you have a viable Workers' Compensation claim.
WHAT ARE MY RIGHTS?
1) To choose your treating physician in any area or specialty of medicine
2) To reasonable and necessary medical testing, treatment and medications
3) To receive lost wage benefits when you are unable to work or when you have suffered a loss of earning capacity
4) To receive mileage reimbursement (or have transportation provided) for necessary medical and vocational travel
5) To be awarded penalties and attorney's fees, under certain circumstances, when denied any of the above
WHAT DO I NEED TO DO TO PROTECT MY RIGHTS?
1) Report your accident to a supervisor at the first opportunity
2) Seek medical attention immediately
3) Provide a complete and accurate medical history to every physician that you see
4) Follow your doctor's instructions exactly
5) Keep track of all miles traveled for medical appointments, MRIs and other testing, and prescription
6) ALWAYS TELL THE TRUTH, i.e. be sure that you are completely honest with everyone regarding how your accident happened, and what you can and cannot do without pain