Workers’ Comp and Third-Party Lawsuits
Suffering an injury in the workplace is the last thing you want to experience. You might assume your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance will pay for the costs you incur from this event, which is the correct assumption in most instances.
However, sometimes injuries are the fault of another entity unrelated to the employer’s actions. Some cases can require a claim against both parties.
Workers’ comp and third-party lawsuits differ significantly, so you must consult a local workers’ comp lawyer in Orange County to find the best option for maximum compensation.
The Basics of Third-party Liability
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system and can make securing benefits for injured workers easier. You can get payment for your lost income and medical expenses related to your workplace injury, and you do not have to prove employer negligence to get benefits.
One caveat is that you may not sue your employer if you go through the workers’ comp process.
Your options will change if another person or entity was responsible for your injury. These changes occur when someone other than your employer caused your accident and injuries, allowing you to file a third-party claim.
Third-party claims are essentially personal injury cases. That means you must prove negligence and fault, which is the critical difference between these claims. Speak to a personal injury lawyer near you for guidance.
Typical Situations Where Third-party Liability Applies
You need a lawyer who knows which incidents fall into third-party claims and which rely only on workers’ comp.
The most common third-party claims involve:
Many employees drive to accomplish work tasks. Unfortunately, car accidents are a threat that you can face when driving for work. If someone else causes an accident while doing your job, you can file a workers’ comp claim with your employer. You can also file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party.
You might use a slew of products at work. Most are safe, but some can have defects. A malfunction or defective tool can cause severe injuries, and construction tools regularly cause electrocutions, amputations, and crush injuries. The employer is responsible for training employees and ensuring they have safety equipment to use these devices.
However, you can hold a third party liable for your losses if a defective part or product defect causes the injury. You can file a product liability claim against the manufacturer.
Property owner liability
Some industries require you to work on someone else’s property, and the property owners must keep the premises safe for anyone legally on the premises. You can hold the property owners liable if they fail to do so and you suffer an injury. This often happens when there is a broken stair, loose rug, unsecured cables, etc. Construction workers commonly suffer injuries in these types of accidents.
When working on a construction site, several different crews from other companies can work on the same construction project. Many construction accident cases lead to third-party injury cases, and liable parties can include property owners, contractors, and subcontractors. You might file a claim against one or all of these liable parties.
While these are the most common situations involving third-party claims, they are not the only ones. There are many workplaces statewide, and they all have different risks. A lawyer can determine who you can hold responsible for your losses.
What Are Common Workplace Injuries?
In general, there are two types of workplace injuries. The first type is an injury from a one-time incident that can occur from a specific negligent action. The other type happens over a long period from repetitive motion, toxic exposure, or stress.
Examples of workplace injuries include:
- Back injuries
- Broken bones
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Spinal injuries
- Respiratory issues
- Toxic chemical exposure
- Heart disease
The type of injury can determine who you can hold responsible for your losses. Repetitive injuries may only qualify for workers’ compensation. However, if a third party released a toxic substance that injured you, you may have other options.
Single-incident injuries can lead to either personal injury or workers’ comp claims. Our work injury lawyers can review how your injury occurred and which legal route you should take.
Third-party claims take place in civil court like other personal injury lawsuits. The injury victim has the burden of proof in these instances, meaning you present evidence that your injuries resulted from the third party’s negligent actions. You must prove by a preponderance of evidence that the defendant’s negligent actions caused your injuries and losses.
You must address a few elements in your injury claim. For a third-party claim to succeed, you and your work injury lawyer must show:
Duty of care
The first element shows a duty between the defendant and the plaintiff for the defendant to keep the injury victim safe from harm. A typical example is drivers who owe each other duties of care to drive responsibly. If they choose to consume drugs or alcohol or become distracted, that breaches this duty. Another example is a product manufacturer who owes a duty to consumers to have a safe product and provide adequate warnings.
Breach of duty
Once you establish duty, you must show a breach of said duty. The defendant violated or breached the duty they owed you. In work-related injuries, the property owner may have failed to maintain the safety of the property by not repairing or sectioning off dangerous areas or a driver who violated traffic safety laws.
The next element you must prove is that the defendant’s negligence was the direct cause of your accident and injuries. If a defective product caused your accident you can hold the manufacturer liable for the faulty product.
Many lawsuits will reach a head when they get to this place. Insurers often deflect and blame another party for the accident. Our local workers’ compensation lawyer will work diligently to prove causation.
Lastly, you must show that you suffered losses from the workplace accident. You can suffer emotional, physical, mental, and financial losses. Examples include lost income, medical expenses, permanent injuries, disfigurement, etc. Often, your lawyer can prove damages with receipts and documentation.
Criteria for Workplace Injury Liability
Since the basis of workers’ compensation claims is no-fault, it is rare for employees to file a lawsuit directly against the employer. The best way to seek additional damages, especially for losses like loss of consortium, punitive damages, and pain and suffering, is to pursue a personal injury lawsuit.
Third-party claims might involve:
- Product manufacturers
- Negligent property owner
- Negligent co-workers
A third-party claim does not absolve employers from liability in workplace injuries. They must still pay for your medical expenses and lost income through workers’ compensation insurance. Payment for these losses will last until the employee returns to work.
If you return to work and are still undergoing medical treatment, you will continue to receive payment. Claims involving permanent injuries are more complex, as the employer should compensate you long-term for these losses.
Any payment your employer is responsible for goes through the workers’ compensation system. Additional damages from a third party come from a personal injury lawsuit. Speak to a local work injury lawyer about all your options.
Damages for Third-party Work Injury Claims
When you file a third-party lawsuit, you can request more damages than in a workers’ compensation claim. Since third-party claims are personal injury lawsuits, you can seek damages similar to those cases. Workers’ compensation claims have strict guidelines and won’t budge on the available benefits.
Benefits for workers’ compensation claims include:
- Medical costs
- Temporary disability payments (two-thirds of your weekly salary)
- Permanent disability payments
- Vocational retraining when you cannot return to your previous position
- Life pension payments (for permanent injuries between 70 and 99 percent ratings)
- Death benefits for surviving family members
Conversely, you can recover damages for the following from a third-party claim:
- Emotional distress and suffering: Some workplace accidents cause emotional pain. Workers’ compensation does not cover these losses, but an injury claim does. You can get reimbursement for your emotional injuries in a third-party claim.
- Lost earning capacity and income: When an injury results in a disability, a workers’ comp claim will only cover two-thirds of your salary. There are also state caps that can apply. Third-party claims can result in getting more for your lost income and lower earning capacity.
- Medical expenses: This damage overlaps both claims. A personal injury claim can pick up where the workers’ comp claim ends. You must see a doctor after a workplace injury. You can recover payment for current and future injury-related treatment.
- Wrongful death: Workers’ compensation claims offer some benefits for surviving families. However, they can have caps and are limited. Families can file wrongful death lawsuits against third parties to receive more payment than is available in workers’ comp death benefits.
Some damages overlap in both claims. The insurance companies and parties involved in these claims will fight about who should pay for those overlapping costs. You need to pursue all the available legal options possible for your case.
Pursuing Both Types of Claims
In some situations, you can pursue both types of injury cases to ensure you get the maximum compensation. Depending on the circumstances of your injury, you can file a workers’ compensation claim to cover expenses for medical treatment and lost income. At the same time, you can have a pending personal injury lawsuit.
Once your third-party claim settles, the employer can demand reimbursement for the payment they provided you, which can complicate your case. However, you are not the one who is paying anyone back. Your work injury lawyer can help settle this matter with the insurance companies so it does not cost you money.
Some workers’ comp attorneys will not properly explore the option of a third-party claim. Their logic is that the workers’ comp claim should cover all your losses. However, you need a personal injury attorney familiar with the third-party claims process, including credit and lien rights. When filing separate claims, you should find a lawyer with experience handling both types of work injury claims.
A skilled attorney can handle every aspect of a workers’ comp claim, ensuring the insurance company grants you the benefits you deserve. This claim often begins right away following a work injury.
It might take longer to identify third-party liability and gather the evidence you need to support your negligence claim. However, it is worth the wait if you can receive significantly more compensation through a third-party claim. During this process, your lawyer handles everything on your behalf.
Discuss Your Options With a Workers’ Comp Attorney
A trusted workers’ compensation attorney has extensive knowledge and experience handling injury cases. They can assess whether you qualify for a third-party claim, workers’ comp claim, or both.
The right legal team will look to maximize your financial recovery by reviewing all your options. After a workplace injury, please schedule a free consultation with a personal injury attorney in Orange County area.