The Vermont work comp system benefits employees to some extent, and employers to some extent, while also leaving both parties something to complain about. The Vermont work comp system helps you, the employee, because it ensures that if you experienced a Vermont work injury (or were injured working for a Vermont employer out-of-state), then you are almost always entitled to Vermont workers’ compensation benefits regardless of who caused your injury – even if it was you! Maybe your Vermont work injury occurred because one of your coworkers left something on the floor that you tripped over, and you broke your arm. As you can imagine, in that case, you’re entitled to Vermont workers’ compensation benefits because your coworker caused your injury.
But what if you were injured because you’re the one who made a mistake, like by trying to lift something that was too heavy, or simply because accidents happen at work, like when you slip on uneven ground and injure your knee? The good thing for you is, when you’re injured at work in Vermont, it usually doesn’t matter how your Vermont work injury happened. That’s because work comp is a “no-fault” system that allows you to recover benefits even if you caused your own injury. In fact, most of the time when you’re injured at work in Vermont, you get workers’ compensation benefits immediately, without having to prove whether you or someone else caused of your work injury (subject to certain exceptions, like horseplay, intoxication, or intentionally injuring yourself). The Vermont work comp system is good for you because if you had to sue your employer to recover damages for your Vermont work injury, your employer could argue that you contributed to your own injury, and therefore you shouldn’t recover anything. Not only could such a lawsuit take several years to play out — while you’re stuck at home recovering from your injury, not making any money — but in the end, your employer might succeed in proving that you were more the cause of your injury than the work you were doing! Instead, the Vermont worker’s compensation system is good for you, the employee, because it ensures that when you experience a Vermont work injury, you get Vermont workers’ compensation benefits quicker than if you had to go to court, and without having to prove who caused your work injury.
Now, there is a tradeoff for these quicker payment of benefits that injured employees receive. In exchange for requiring employers to pay you Vermont work comp benefits immediately (unless your injury is disputed), and regardless of who caused your work injury, the Vermont Workers’ Compensation Act helps your employer by only requiring them to pay for certain things when you suffer a Vermont work injury. Pursuant to the Vermont Workers’ Compensation Act, an injured employee is only entitled to recover specific work comp benefits for their injury: temporary disability benefits, permanent disability benefits, medical benefits, vocational rehabilitation benefits, and if an employee dies as a result of a Vermont work injury, death benefits.
Vermont work comp also benefits your employer by limiting the amount of money you can recover for you Vermont work comp claim. If you were allowed to go to court instead of through the Department of Labor, your employer might have to pay lots of unpredictable damages like pain and suffering, loss of consortium, emotional distress, etc. Your employer and its insurance company would have no way of predicting how much they might have to pay until a jury answered that question. This would make insurance premiums skyrocket. Thus, while you benefit by receiving guaranteed, quicker benefits for your work injury, it also helps your employer by limiting the amount of money its insurance company has to pay. In turn, this makes it easier for your employer and its insurance company to predict the costs of doing business and set their premiums.
In the end, both you and your employer are justified in complaining about various aspects of the Vermont work comp system. However, the Vermont Legislature (and governments across the United States) concluded this is the arrangement that is fairest for everyone involved. Of course, its my job to make sure your employer’s insurance company pays you the maximum Vermont work comp benefits it can be required to pay, and that you know what to do to throughout the process so that you receive as much as you can.