Currently, federal and state safety standards exist to ensure safe working conditions for employees. Companies may be fined if they do not meet these standards. Employees who are injured at work receive benefits through workers' compensation.
What remedies are available to injured employees under workers' compensation? Workers' compensation is the exclusive remedy for employees to receive benefits from employers for on-the-job injuries. State law requires all employers with one or more full- or part-time employees to provide workers' compensation benefits for on-the-job injuries and work-related diseases. Benefits are provided regardless of whether the injury was caused by the employer, the employee, the equipment, or a third party. Employees are entitled to specific benefits, which are outlined in state law, without going to court. When a workplace injury occurs, an injured employee receives the following benefits, depending on the circumstances:
- reasonable and necessary medical care, at no cost to the employee;
- tax-free payment for lost wages up to two-thirds of the injured employee's salary;
- payment for permanent disability and disfigurement;
- vocational rehabilitation;
- funeral expenses; and
- death benefits for surviving dependents.
An employee may appeal the determination of benefits through a state system, but cannot sue an employer for damages. An employee may sue a third party whose negligence may have caused or contributed to a workplace injury to recover damages in excess of workers' compensation benefits. In 2005, over 120,000 workplace injuries were reported, and of those, approximately 85,000 resulted in claims for medical care and 16,600 resulted in claims for lost wages.
What additional remedies are offered to injured employees under Amendment 57?
In addition to any remedies received under workers' compensation, Amendment 57 allows an injured employee to sue an employer if he or she believes that the employer failed to provide a safe and healthy workplace. Amendment 57 applies to employees working at private companies with ten or more employees. An employee cannot receive damages that he or she already received under workers' compensation. Under Amendment 57, examples of damages that an employee may sue for include:
- past and future monetary losses;
- pain and suffering;
- emotional distress;
- mental anguish;
- loss of enjoyment of life; and
- other non-monetary losses.
Be it Enacted by the People of the State of Colorado:
Part 1 of article 2 of title 8, Colorado Revised Statutes, is amended BY THE ADDITION OF A NEW SECTION to read:
8-2-124. Safe workplace. (1) IT IS THE POLICY OF THIS STATE THAT EVERY EMPLOYEE SHOULD WORK IN A SAFE AND HEALTHY WORK ENVIRONMENT.
(2) EVERY EMPLOYER IN THIS STATE SHALL PROVIDE A SAFE AND HEALTHY WORKPLACE FOR ITS EMPLOYEES.
(3) FAILURE OF AN EMPLOYER TO COMPLY WITH ITS OBLIGATIONS UNDER THIS SECTION SHALL BE ACTIONABLE BY AN INJURED EMPLOYEE IN DISTRICT COURT IN ADDITION TO ANY RIGHTS THE EMPLOYEE MAY HAVE UNDER THE WORKERS' COMPENSATION ACT OF COLORADO, ARTICLES 40 TO 47 OF THIS TITLE. THE INJURED EMPLOYEE SHALL HAVE A RIGHT TO A JURY TRIAL ON ALL ISSUES OF FACT, IF DEMANDED IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE COLORADO RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE. THE COURT OR JURY MAY AWARD THE INJURED EMPLOYEE COMPENSATORY AND EXEMPLARY DAMAGES, INCLUDING DAMAGES FOR PAST AND FUTURE PECUNIARY LOSSES, PAIN AND SUFFERING, EMOTIONAL DISTRESS, INCONVENIENCE, MENTAL ANGUISH, LOSS OF ENJOYMENT OF LIFE, AND OTHER NONPECUNIARY LOSSES, PROVIDED THAT THE EMPLOYEE SHALL NOT BE ENTITLED TO A DOUBLE RECOVERY FOR THE SAME LOSSES FOR WHICH THE EMPLOYEE HAS ALREADY BEEN COMPENSATED UNDER THE WORKERS' COMPENSATION ACT.
(4) "EMPLOYER" AND "EMPLOYEE" SHALL HAVE THE MEANINGS SET FORTH IN SECTION 8-4-101, EXCEPT THAT THIS SECTION SHALL APPLY ONLY TO EMPLOYERS THAT REGULARLY EMPLOY TEN OR MORE EMPLOYEES IN THE STATE OF COLORADO.