I have often been asked if an injured worker may sue their employer for their workers' compensation claim. In other words, can an injured worker sue their employer for negligence in causing their injury?
The short answer is no. Under Oregon law, workers' compensation is an "exclusive remedy" and is "no-fault." "Exclusive remedy" is a legal term that means it is the only legal remedy under the law. When an employee is injured in Oregon their only remedy (i.e., legal option) is to file a workers' compensation claim. On the other side, all Oregon employers must provide Oregon workers' compensation coverage. Basically, the State has decided that it will require all employers to carry workers' compensation insurance. In exchange, injured workers cannot file lawsuits against employers - they can only go through the workers' compensation system.
"No fault" means that it does not matter if there is fault in the causing of a workers' compensation injury. For the employer, this means it does not matter if they were negligent or there were dangers in the workplace that caused the injury. For the worker, this means that it does not matter if the worker was negligent (i.e., not paying attention or not following correct safety procedures). Simply, it does not matter what caused a work injury in Oregon. Once there is an injury, the worker may file a claim and it will be covered under the employer's workers' compensation insurance no matter who or what was at fault.
There is one small exception to these rules. If an employer is egregiously at fault, there is very, very rarely an allowance made for an injured worker to pursue them outside the workers' compensation system. An example would be an intentionally harmful act by the employer (i.e., the employer actually intended to harm the employee) or very extreme recklessness (the employer knowingly sprayed a dangerous chemical on an employee's work station).