When an employee is killed on the job due to the negligent or intentional actions of his or her employer, the person's family usually can pursue a wrongful death lawsuit against the company. Unfortunately in Massachusetts, this option is taken off the table for many families because of an exclusionary clause in the law that provides immunity from lawsuits to employers in the state. Here's more information about this issue and some possible ways around it.
Employer Immunity from Wrongful Death Lawsuits
There are two specific laws that provide immunity to employers in different ways. The first, Mass. Gen. Laws CH. 152 Section 23, states employees who accept money from workers' compensation for his or her injuries forfeit the right to use remedies available under common law. An employee who gets hurt on the job and files a claim with workers' comp, for instance, would not be able to file any type of personal injury case against the employer. Since this also extends to the employee's family, his or her family members could not file a wrongful death suit if the employee dies as a result of those injuries at a later date.
The second law, Mass. Gen. Laws CH. 152 Section 24, requires employees to notify employers they reserve the right to use common law remedies for resolving on the job injuries at the start of their employment or when the employer first signs up for workers' compensation insurance. Anyone who fails to notify their employer of their preference invalidates their families' ability to sue employers for damages. Even if a person does not use workers' compensation, the family may still be barred from filing a wrongful death lawsuit if the employee did not file notice with his or her employer protecting the right to sue for damages in court.
Workarounds to Employer Immunity
Unfortunately, these laws severely impact a family's ability to recover damages if their loved ones are killed by the company's negligence or intentional acts. In many cases, the only recourse a family has is to take whatever benefits workers' compensation provides in the event of an employee's demise, which may not be much more than death benefits and lost wages.
There may be other avenues, though, for recovering compensation. One option is to pursue lawsuits against other companies that may be involved in the situation. For instance, if the person was killed because a machine malfunctioned, the family could sue the manufacturer of the device.
Another avenue is if the person dies on the job but as the result of the actions of the actions or negligence of a third-party. One example of this is an employee who is killed in a car accident while making deliveries in the course of his or her work. The family could file a lawsuit against the person who caused the accident and recover damages that way.
These laws only apply to employees, so challenging the person's status as an employee with the company may also be a way of getting around this law. For instance, some companies call the people they hire employees but—for one reason or another—classify them as independent contractors. If the employer is perpetuating some type of fraud in this area, then you may be able to use that to gain legal standing for bringing a suit against the company.
Getting around the immunity Massachusetts employers have against wrongful death suits can be challenging.
However, each state has it's own laws. Check with a personal injury attorney about your particular case to determine what laws in your state may have a bearing on your ability for a successful case.