Most workers injured on the job are entitled to benefits paid by workers’ compensation, a type of no-fault insurance that provides coverage for medical care and missed work. In some cases, injured workers may also have grounds to pursue a civil personal injury lawsuit against a third party.
Because third-party work injury cases offer an opportunity to recover compensation that isn’t available under workers’ comp, it’s important for workers to know when they have a potential claim and how an experienced personal injury lawyer can help.
What is a Third-Party Work Injury Case?
In California and most other states, workers’ compensation is the “exclusive remedy” for workers who suffer injuries in the course of their employment. This means that if a person is hurt on the job, their only legal option is to file a claim with their employer’s workers’ compensation carrier.
Despite exclusivity rules, there are exceptions that allow workers to pursue civil claims against outside of workers’ compensation. These exceptions are limited to only a few circumstances:
- When the negligent or wrongful acts of a third party (not the employer) caused the worker’s injury;
- When the worker’s employer can be held liable under limited exceptions to employer immunity, such as in cases of a direct assault, failure to carry workers’ comp insurance, or fraud.
Most third-party work injury claims involve a party that is not the worker’s employer. Common examples include:
- Claims against negligent drivers who injure workers in car accidents.
- Claims against negligent sub-contractors who cause worksite accidents.
- Premises claims against property owners who fail to address unsafe conditions.
- Claims against manufacturers, distributors, or retailers over defective products.
Why Should I Pursue a Third-Party Case?
Workers and families can suffer profound losses after a workplace injury or fatal accident. And while worker’s compensation can be a valuable resource for needed benefits, it does not provide compensation for all of a worker’s losses. For example:
- Workers’ compensation is generally limited to medical and disability benefits. It does not compensate employees for pain and suffering, nor does it award spousal damages or punitive damages. Workers must also choose health care providers who’ve been approved by their employer and collect disability benefits paid only at a percentage of their wages.
- Personal injury claims entitle victims to a broader scope of compensation. This can include compensation for past and future medical expenses (from any provider or specialist), past and future lost wages (paid at full wage), pain and suffering, a spouse’s loss of consortium, and punitive damages (in cases involving egregious acts of negligence).
Do I Have to Prove Negligence in a Third-Party Work Injury Claim?
Workers injured on the job can collect benefits regardless of fault, and even when they cause their own injuries. Though there are requirements for timely notifying an employer and seeking treatment only from approved providers, there is no requirement to prove fault or negligence in a workers’ compensation case.
If you have a third-party work injury claim, however, you will need to prove fault.
Personal injury claims are civil legal actions that require Plaintiffs to establish liability. For negligence actions, this generally means proving that:
- The Defendant owed the Plaintiff a duty of care;
- The Defendant was negligent in breaching or failing to uphold their duty;
- The Defendant’s negligence caused the Plaintiff’s injuries; and
- The Plaintiff suffered actual damages.
Proving negligence is a complex task, and only part of a successful personal injury claim. Plaintiffs must additionally establish their damages and account for the economic and non-economic losses they’ve incurred. This includes estimates for future damages a victim is likely to suffer due to their injuries, such as the costs of future medical care or future lost earnings.
Experienced Counsel Can Help
Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP is a national trial practice that’s recovered billions in compensation for clients. If you or someone you love were injured in a work-related accident, we’re available to review your matter and your options for pursuing a third-party claim.