To bring a case to court, it seems obvious that you must have some kind of legal basis for your claim. For a personal injury case, that could mean that someone else caused you to slip and fall; you slipped because the floor was wet. In that type of case, someone else had a duty to keep the floor clear from slippery things, and they did not follow through on that duty. Because of their lack of follow-through, you can likely bring a case to court so that the person that failed to keep the floor clear of slippery things will be responsible for their actions. However, if you slipped in your own house because your son spilled on the kitchen floor, you are very unlikely to have a case against your ten-year-old son.
While the explanation seems simple, it is not in many cases. The law is filled with qualifications and loop holes. In the previous example, you cannot bring a case if no one had a duty to keep the floor clear from slippery things. In personal injury cases, there needs to be a duty to create liability.
There are also time, place, and manner restrictions in bringing lawsuits as well. The classic example is restricting work injuries to worker’s compensation claims. Generally, if you are injured while at work, then you do not file a separate lawsuit, you file a worker’s compensation claim. It is similar to an in-house procedure for taking care of injury claims. Worker’s compensation is an insurance that the employer uses so that they cannot be sued in the regular courts. It provides damages in the form of wage replacement and medical expenses. Therefore, if you tried to bring a case for being injured while you are at work to a normal courtroom, you would likely be dismissed because the worker’s compensation program should be handling your claim, not the court.
Exactly this situation happened in Pineville, Louisiana, in 2009. A worker was leaving her parking spot after completing her shift when she was hit by a van operated by another worker. The worker who was hit filed suit against the business and the worker operating the van. The business objected, stating that she should be filling out paperwork for the worker’s compensation claim, not trying to bring the business into court. The trial court agreed and dismissed the case.
However, the appeals court disagreed and reversed the lower court. The time, place, and manner restrictions were important in this case. The worker who was hit was actually leaving her shift. She was not working for the business at the time and was not on the clock. Although she was in the parking lot, she was not acting within the scope of her employment and would therefore not be covered by the worker’s compensation program. If the accident had occurred while she was still clocked in, then the result would be very different.
The difference of half an hour allowed that worker to have her day in court. Although litigation is time consuming for both parties, if a worker sues then she may get a jury and that jury may award damages that are significantly higher than what the employee would have gotten under the worker’s compensation claim. Businesses are also more likely to settle because they want to avoid the “bad press” of going to trial. Both of these reasons make taking the claim to court much more appealing for the employee, but not the employer.
Whether you are dealing with a worker’s compensation claim or want to take your claim to court, you need to be mindful of the time, place, and manner restrictions. They can make or break a case.