Yes, employees can generally receive worker’s compensation benefits for any work injury, even when the worker is at fault for the injury. To understand why, a brief explanation of the history behind Wisconsin’s worker’s compensation law may help.
A Brief History of Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation System
Prior to the Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation Act (“the Act”) becoming law in 1911, employees who were injured while working for an employer had to file a civil action in order to recover for those injuries. Obtaining compensation was very difficult because the employee had to prove the employer was negligent, as would an individual suing someone for an injury occurring outside of an employment relationship. Further, employers could raise defenses such as contributory negligence (i.e. the employee was also negligent) and assumption of risk (i.e. the employee was aware of the dangers and took the chance that he or she would be injured).
From the employer’s perspective, the employee’s difficulty with succeeding in a civil action was beneficial; however, there was also a significant risk that a judge or jury would find for the employee and award a large amount of damages, including damages for pain and suffering resulting from the injury. The amount of damages available in a civil action significantly outweighed the damages available under a worker’s compensation system. In short, the Act was the result of a compromise between labor and management. The employee did not need to prove that the employer was negligent, and even if said employee was negligent, he or she could still recover benefits. In exchange, the injured worker’s damages were limited significantly.
Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation Does Not Determine “Fault”
So the Wisconsin worker’s compensation system is essentially a “no-fault” system. This means that even if you contribute to your injury by a “negligent” act, you still can recover benefits, assuming the other requirements of the Act are met. Those elements are as follows:
(1) you sustain an injury;
(2) at the time of that injury, both you and the employer were subject to the Act;
(3) at the time of the injury, you were in the course of employment;
(4) you did not inflict the injury on yourself; and
(5) the accident or occupational exposure that caused your injury arose out of your employment (i.e. the injury was a result of some hazard of the employment).
An injured worker does not have to ask, “Will I receive worker’s compensation benefits if the injury was my fault?” Instead, he or she must simply meet the above five criteria.
At-Fault Workers Sometimes Lose a Percentage of Worker’s Compensation Benefits
Even though the Wisconsin worker’s compensation system is essentially a “no-fault” system, there can be consequences for an employee’s disregard of safety rules. Wisconsin Statutes section 102.58 provides for a 15% decrease in worker’s compensation benefits (maximum of $15,000) if an employee:
• fails to use a safety device that is provided in accordance with any statute, rule, or order of the department and that is adequately maintained, and the use of which is reasonable enforced by the employer,
• fails to obey a reasonable safety rule that was both adopted and enforced by the employer and of which notice was given, or
• was intoxicated when the injury occurred.
Whichever circumstances apply — the failure to use the safety device, failure to obey a safety rule, or intoxication—there must also be a causal link to the injury. This decrease in benefits only applies if a formal hearing is held and the Department of Workforce Development finds that Wisconsin Statutes section 102.58 applies to the claim. Of course, experienced applicant’s attorneys consider the chances that such a violation will be found when evaluating the claim during the settlement process.
Injured Workers Can Educate Themselves and Find Professional Legal Help
Hawks Quindel’s Wisconsin worker’s compensation attorneys have decades of experience representing injured employees, including those whose actions may have contributed to their work accident (or feel they are “at fault.”) If you have been injured at work, there are a number of general things you should know about worker’s compensation in Wisconsin. If you would like to discuss the specific details of your situation, please contact an experienced worker’s compensation attorney at Hawks Quindel for a free consultation.