Who Is Liable for an Accident at Work?


Workers who have been injured on the job have the right to recover compensation for their injuries, but figuring out who should pay can be more complicated than in other situations. There may be multiple parties, insurance policies, contracts, and other factors that come into play. Here’s how to understand who is liable for an accident at work.


There are a number of different parties who may be liable for an accident at work.

  • The employer is the most likely to be liable as they have control over the facility, the working conditions, and the hiring and training of employees.
  • Many workplace injuries fall under workers’ compensation. This is a type of insurance coverage that employers often carry to cover the medical bills and lost wages of workers who get hurt on the job. The employer is still legally liable for the cause of the injury, but the insurance company is liable for paying for injuries covered by the insurance policy.
  • An employer may also have private insurance coverage, such as liability insurance.
  • Contractors, delivery companies, or others doing work at a worksite but who aren’t directly employed by the main employer may be liable for accidents that they cause.
  • Product manufacturers may be liable for injuries caused by their products. An example would be a tool with a safety defect.
  • Other employees may have liability in very limited situations.

The key to answering who is liable for an accident at work is figuring out who had a duty to the injured party. In most work injuries, the injured employee will have a claim based on the employer’s failing to take all of the steps needed to keep the employee safe. There might then be a law that says that a specific claim has to go through workers’ compensation. There can also be contracts with a union, hired contractor, or some other entity that makes that someone else liable for the injuries.


The starting point for figuring out who is responsible for an accident at work is negligence. Negligence is when someone has a duty to keep others safe but fails to do so, causing an injury. One example of negligence at work is an employer who fails to fix faulty brakes on a forklift, which injures a worker when the forklift driver is unable to stop it.

Many negligence claims are based on a reasonableness standard. The question is whether the employer took reasonable steps to prevent the accident. You might have had an injury at an oilfield that could have been prevented if you had had a piece of safety equipment that every employer except your own provides. This would likely be negligence on the part of your employer. The same principles apply to claims against other parties, such as an outside repair company that injured a store employee while doing a repair at that store.

There are also safety standards that make your employer responsible for an accident by law or that strongly suggest negligence if they’re violated. These include the following:

  • Federal safety laws
  • State safety laws
  • OSHA guidelines
  • Any specific standards for your industry.

Finally, employers are often responsible for any injury that occurs during the ordinary course of business even if the employer wasn’t negligent. Some jobs are dangerous by nature, even if an employer takes every reasonable precaution, and the law wants to make sure employees in those jobs are protected. Employers can also be responsible for people under their control, such as employees.


When an employee causes an accident, an employer may try to deny responsibility for that accident. There are two primary reasons employers might give in trying to show they are not liable. One is that the injured employee did something wrong. The second is that another employee didn’t do what the employer told them to do. The employer is usually still liable.

Is an Employer Still Liable If the Injured Employee Did Something Wrong?

If the injured employee did something wrong, the injury still often falls under workers’ compensation or even other types of negligence by the employer. The law expects that employees will not perfectly follow all employer guidelines to the letter 100% of the time and that mistakes will happen. The law is still designed to protect employees in these situations unless the employee’s conduct was well outside reasonable expectations of what an imperfect employee might do (such as intentional gross misconduct).

Additionally, an employee can also allege that it was the employer that forced them to commit safety violations. It’s common for employees to be trained one way but then for supervisors to tell them to skip safety steps because it slows their work too much. It’s the employer’s actions in practice, not on paper or in their training, that determine whether they are liable.

Is an Employer Still Liable If One Employee Injures Another?

An employer is also generally liable even if one employee injures another. This generally applies even if that employee didn’t follow the employer’s training. The employer is responsible for hiring and supervising that employee, so the employer can determine whether that employee is meeting expectations and should be working. As a matter of public policy, the law also prefers to hold the employer financially responsible rather than individual employees.

There may be some limitations on an employer’s liability in unusual cases where the injury was caused by something outside of the employee’s duties. For example, an employer might not be liable if one employee criminally assaults another if that employee had a clean background check and created no reason for the employer to suspect they would act violently.


If you’ve been injured in an accident at work, an experienced work injury lawyer can help you figure out who is liable so you can get compensation for your injuries. Call Hanna Allen, PLLC at 432-220-2649 to discuss the details of your case and your options for receiving compensation.