​Work-Related Accidents: Which Party Is Responsible?

Most workplace injuries result in workers’ compensation claims, but sometimes an injured worker might pursue a claim against a third party who caused or contributed to the accident. In general, the third party cannot be a coworker or employer.

An individual or entity separate from the employer may be held liable for an accident on the job. Generally, you cannot use it against a supervisor or coworker. As an alternative, third-party liability may arise from various other circumstances, including other drivers who crash into a working driver’s vehicle, malfunctioning products due to manufacturing or design defects, or the negligence of contractors on a work site.

A worker who a drunk truck driver strikes while on the job can recover workers’ compensation benefits, but they can also sue the truck driver and the trucking company. In many cases, workers’ compensation payments are insufficient to cover a worker’s medical expenses and lost income. A third-party liability claim allows the worker to seek non-economic damages and punitive damages.

You can also bring a third-party claim against a product manufacturer if you suffer serious hip injuries from a defective chair leg at work. If you slip on a wet bathroom floor left by a client’s cleaning service and get hurt, you can sue the cleaning company for third-party liability.

You have to prove the third party’s negligence, and you must prove duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages to prove the third party’s negligence. Nonetheless, suppose the plaintiff files a claim against a product manufacturer. In that case, it may be possible to raise a strict liability claim to hold a manufacturer liable by demonstrating there was a defect that resulted in harm.


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Others May Have Caused Your Injuries

Accidents at work can happen anywhere.

Currently, equipment is causing injury to contractors, a building is exposing office workers to chemicals, maintenance crews are cleaning without protective gear, and trucks are speeding down highways with overloaded cabs ready to tip.

Most people assume that the only remedy for an employee suffering an injury due to someone else’s negligence is to file a workers’ compensation claim.

There are more options than that.

Injured employees almost certainly need workers’ compensation, but many do not file third-party injury lawsuits, as well.

Thousands of seriously injured people assume they can rely on the state’s benefits program to support their families while recovering from work-related injuries or illnesses. Indeed, workers’ comp may not cover the entire extent of your losses, so if you only go after state benefits, you can be losing out on a lot of money.

When appropriate, injured workers should file a third-party claim to avoid future struggles with accident-related medical bills.

How Does Workers’ Compensation Work?

Workers’ compensation is one of the oldest social insurance programs in the country. The first state to create one was Wisconsin. Before this, the law did not do an excellent job of protecting workers from losses caused by work-related injuries and illnesses.

Workers’ compensation benefits vary from state to state.

In most cases, workers’ compensation covers medical care and partial lost wages for injured employees. It’s a no-fault program, meaning even if the worker caused the injury, workers’ comp will still pay.

Employers are often protected from worker-injury lawsuits if they participate in the program. In most cases, employees cannot directly sue their employer for injuries.

Third-Party Involvement in Workplace Accidents

An injury resulting from a workplace accident may involve a third party.

Examples include:

  • Car accidents that occur while you are driving your company vehicle or your vehicle to perform work
  • A defective product causes an accident, such as a defective tool or piece of equipment
  • Workplace exposure to toxic substances
  • Accidents caused by the negligence of another business or employer

Liability in Third-Party Claims

To pursue a claim against a third party believed to have caused your workplace injury, the third party must have owed you a duty of care and breached that duty, resulting in your injury and damages, such as medical expenses and lost wages.

Proving liability varies based on the situation surrounding your injury:

  • In a work-related car accident, you must prove the other driver’s negligence caused the accident and the injuries you sustained.
  • You must prove that a defective product caused your injury. Your employer or users may need to verify that the manufacturer’s product was inherently dangerous to use, that the manufacturer was aware that the equipment was defective, or that the manufacturer failed to warn them of the risks associated with the product.
  • If you suffered an injury while handling a toxic substance at work, you might file a claim against the manufacturer of the substance or the faulty safety equipment that should have protected you. You need a lawyer to prove that the manufacturer failed to provide proper warnings regarding your injury.

Third-Party Claims for Work-Related Injuries

In the event of a work injury caused by a third party, you can file both a third-party claim and a workers’ compensation claim.

To file a third-party claim, you must write to the third party or their insurer. A third-party insurance claim is initiated, which is investigated by the third party’s insurance company. After the claim is approved, you may accept the offer or negotiate further. You can appeal the decision or file a lawsuit if they deny your claim.

Third-party claims allow you to seek damages not available through workers’ compensation. In most cases, workers’ compensation covers medical expenses and some wage replacement for injuries sustained on the job, but not all your losses.

Third-party claims can result in:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Medical expenses
  • Future medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Lost future earning capacity
  • Property damage

If you obtain a settlement through a third-party claim, you can replace the difference between your workers’ compensation wage benefits and what you might normally make if you were working.

Subrogation

An insurance company may raise a subrogation matter in a worker’s third-party personal injury claim.

An injured employee may claim that a third party negligently caused their injuries, and the company’s insurance carrier can enforce the third party’s liability on behalf of the injured employee. Every state has rules regarding subrogation and how an employer or a carrier can recover benefits paid to an employee.

The subrogation interest that an insurer can recover is usually limited to the amount of workers’ compensation benefits paid to the employee. In most cases, if the recovery exceeds the subrogation interest, the carrier can get reimbursed and pay the remainder to the injured employee.

Why Do I Need to File a Third-Party Claim if I Can Apply for Workers’ Compensation?

When a family member recovers from a work-related injury, workers’ compensation is not always enough to maintain their health and wellbeing.

In third-party injury lawsuits, the goal is to recover full compensation for your losses, including diminished future income, disfigurement, and long-term physical therapy.

Can I Sue My Employer if I Suffer an Injury on the Job?

Workers’ compensation programs in most states protect employers from employee injury liability. However, there are instances when you can sue your employer in court.

Examples include:

  • Intentional harm
  • Gross negligence
  • Employer’s relationship with the business or equipment that hurt you

Do I Have to Repay My Workers’ Compensation Money if I Win a Third-Party Claim?

Occasionally, yes. You may be required to use part of your third-party claim settlement or verdict to partially reimburse the workers’ compensation program and your employer, depending on the state in which you suffered an injury.

What Is the Maximum Amount of Money I Can Get From a Third-Party Claim?

Your final settlement or verdict will depend on the extent of your injuries, the available insurance, and how your injuries have affected your life. It is most likely that a successful third-party lawsuit will cover all your lost income, medical expenses, pain and suffering, and other costs associated with the accident.

To Prove Third-Party Workplace Injuries, What Evidence Do I Need?

In general, to succeed in your claim you must establish:

  • The third party owed you a duty of care.
  • The third party failed to provide this care.
  • The third party’s negligent action or inaction caused your injuries.
  • You suffered losses or pain as a result of those injuries. Damages can include both physical and mental injuries, disabilities, lost wages, and medical bills.

What Types of Workplace Injuries Are Most Common?

Labor-related accidents are the most common type of workplace accident.

Job site injuries include:

  • Lifting, bending, and tossing (overexertion)
  • Slips, trips, and falls
  • Falling from a higher level
  • Struck by object or equipment
  • Incidents involving cars on the highway
  • Trips or falls that do not involve falling
  • Caught in or compressed by a piece of equipment
  • Microtasks and repetitive motions

Premises Liability

If you suffered an injury on someone else’s property because of a hazardous condition, premises liability applies. The accident can be anything from a slip and fall to a dog bite.

Your job may require you to go on-site visits, home visits, meetings in other offices or locations, shopping, or to any location outside your employer’s property. You can sue the property owner or their insurance company if they allowed a hazardous condition to exist (and failed to warn of its danger).

Defective Product Liability

A product liability claim occurs when a product hurts you because a company incorrectly manufactured or created it.

This may occur from:

  • Design defects: This happens if a product is inherently dangerous because the design wasn’t safe. It remains a dangerous product even if it is manufactured exactly according to design specifications. A manufacturer can only correct the defect by changing the design and creating the product differently.
  • Manufacturing defects: When a product is damaged, not assembled properly, or otherwise comes through the manufacturing process incorrectly, it can cause a manufacturing defect.
  • Inadequate warnings: Even if they designed the product and manufactured it exactly as expected, sometimes injuries occur because the label or packaging did not adequately warn the consumer about possible dangers or incorrect use.

Suppose defective machinery injured you. In that case, you can sue the manufacturer of that item instead of filing a workers’ compensation claim.

It’s possible to file for workers’ compensation and sue for personal injury simultaneously. Those personal injury suits against liable third parties can recover far more compensation than workers’ compensation claims.

Toxic Exposure

You can sue the manufacturer of a substance that has caused you to become ill at work (or has led to you becoming ill because of its long-term effects). There can be fumes, lead-based paint, asbestos, mercury, or any other substance that causes harm.

Construction Sites

Mines, quarries, and other sites where people work in dangerous occupations can present different issues than other types of workplaces. The general contractor is often responsible for safety on the job site – and that may not be your employer.

If you suffered an injury on the job in the construction industry or on another type of job where you work for a subcontractor who does not own or manage the site, you can file a lawsuit against that company.

An Attorney May Help You

When you suffer an injury at work, you have a lot at stake. If you miss a deadline or fail to answer an application question completely, you may be unable to receive compensation if you suffer a serious work-related injury.

A lawyer can calculate the full value of your injury claim and assist you in deciding whether a third-party injury lawsuit is appropriate.

It’s impossible to know how long you’ll be out of work while recovering from your injury. Most people cannot afford to miss even one paycheck. During your recovery, a personal injury lawyer in your state can deal with investigators and insurance agents to get the compensation you need.

July 21, 2022
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