I've been exposed to a toxic chemical 5 days a week for 2+ years at work because I was improperly trained and told it was safe to use without gloves. I was trained directly by the owner of the business if that matters. Besides a burning sensation on my hands after work and coughing because of inhaling small amount of the chemical a few different incidents I have no noticeable injury. Am I eligible for workers compensation or a personal injury claim?

  • There should have been a MSDS for you to examine for all chemicals you would come into contact with at your employer. I believe its actually required by law that they have them: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safety_data_sheet You should file an OSHA complaint as well as a complaint with your state OSHA equivalent.
    – Andy
    Feb 9, 2017 at 22:24
  • It may depend on what the chemical was. If it was something that would only cause immediate injury (such as bleach) then that is one thing, but if it can have hidden long-term effects then that is quite another. I'm guessing that compensation will depend on the severity of the injury, so a potential latent injury would be important. Feb 10, 2017 at 17:59

4 Answers 4


Usually, a worker's compensation statute imposes strict liability without regard to fault on the employer for all injuries and occupational diseases arising from the job, in exchange to limiting the compensation awarded to that available in the worker's compensation regime. Usually employers are required to buy insurance for this liability, but if they do not, they are still responsible. Generally, however, you are not allowed to bring a personal injury suit against an employer and co-workers.

The strict liability without regard to fault aspect is very broad. For example, it covers injuries suffered by a convenience store employee during an armed robbery, and slip and fall injuries suffered while employees horse around in the break room.

While worker's compensation statutes bar personal injury lawsuits against the employer and co-workers, they do not generally bar personally injury lawsuits against third parties.

For example, if you were injured driving a car in connection with your job, you would have both a worker's compensation claim and a claim against the "at fault" driver.

Absent facts that you do not describe in your question, you would generally be barred from bringing a personal injury lawsuit in the circumstances you describe, but would have a worker's compensation claim.

Unfortunately, the remedy for worker's compensation is frequently quite grudging. You are usually entitled to lost wages and medical expenses related to the injury or disease, and to compensation for any temporary or permanent disability you suffer, generally rated with a duration (in the case of temporary disability) and a percentage of impairment (which in your case might be in the single digits). There is generally no compensation for "pain and suffering" or "emotional distress" or other forms of non-economic damages. And, to get any remedy at all, a doctor will have to agree that your symptoms are caused by your employment.


Probably yes. In general, if you are an employee, and you get hurt doing your job (as it seems you did), your employer is liable.

In most states, employers are required to carry workers compensation policies that pay your injury claim. But even if your employer doesn't have workers' comp, they are still liable, and they still have to pay.

The theory here is that when do what your employer says, they become responsible for keeping you safe. If they fail to do so, then in the eyes of the law, they may be liable to you. That doesn't necessarily mean they did anything evil or obviously irresponsible. It just means they failed in their duty to protect you.

If you were an independent contractor (and not an employee), you may not be eligible for workers' comp. But if you were doing what your boss told you to do (in legalese, if you were acting as their "agent"), you probably still have a claim.

You can always file a claim yourself, but many people in your situation choose to hire a lawyer to help them through the process. Hiring a lawyer can help you avoid certain mistakes, and can help ensure you get the best settlement possible. The downside is that it can cost some money--though often much less than they can help you obtain.

  • Negligence, even implied, is not part of the concept of worker's compensation which is based on strict liability principles.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 8, 2017 at 7:33
  • True. I did not say it was, but I can see how my answer could be misread as implying that. Updating. Feb 8, 2017 at 18:45

You are eligible for workers' compensation if you file a claim and it's approved. You should contact your state's workers' compensation department if you need information on filing a claim.

You can always file a claim against any other insurance you or your employer may have, and it would processed and paid in accordance with the insurance policy.

If you are inadequately compensated by these programs you can generally sue someone – i.e., make a claim in court. But only a lawyer in your jurisdiction could properly evaluate your specific case to advise you as to what theory and law you might sue under.


Workers' compensation claims are generally limited to things like medical bills from your injury, replacement of part of your income while you recover, vocational retraining costs, partial compensation for permanent injuries, or survivor's benefits to your family. Unfortunately, for claims including pain and suffering or other non-economic damages, you would not be able to bring a claim in the workers' compensation system. Additionally, if you were a 1099 contractor, you will not be able to file through the workers' compensation system.

If you think that your boss, coworkers, or supervisor did this to you intentionally, you might be able to bring a third-party negligence claim of some sort outside of the system. This would be a normal type of court case. However, depending on what this chemical actually is, it could be carcinogenic and might be trouble in the future. You should definitely keep an eye on it and stop exposing yourself to it at work.

I would consider talking to a personal injury attorney about a negligence lawsuit. Under negligence laws, your boss owes you a duty of care and breached that duty. If you're not sure that you have a case, try looking at this checklist. It sounds like your boss was acting in violation of some sort of law, and if it doesn't fall under workers' compensation, it has to fall under something. Who lets their employees handle chemicals without proper protection? At the very least, OSHA should come in and investigate.

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