According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 2.9 million workers were injured in the workplace in 2016, and 5,190 died from those injuries [download full report]. Over 30 percent of workers required time off because of an injury, and workplace injuries cost employees, employers and insurance companies more than $250 billion a year.
Workers’ compensation insurance is required of employers in 49 states to protect an injured employee while shielding employers from a lawsuit. In return, an injured worker (or family member) can file a claim to help with medical costs, disability benefits, lost wages and death benefits, if applicable.
Third-Party Liability Claims
Many people think that workers’ compensation is their only source of benefits if they have an on-the-job injury. While workers’ compensation is provided without regard to fault on the employee or employer’s part, there are situations where a negligent third party might be held responsible. Called third-party claims, this legal action allows injured employees to seek additional compensation from the negligent party. Given the movement to cut workers’ compensation benefits in many states, a third-party claim may be critical to achieving full financial recovery from a devastating work injury.
Here’s an example: Let’s say a gravel truck driver working for one company backs over and severely injures a construction site worker employed by a second company. The accident investigation shows the trucking company disabled the backup warning horn on the truck. While the work comp insurance for the construction worker’s company would still cover medical bills and lost time at work, the construction worker might have an additional claim against the trucking company for disabling the horn.
Other types of third-party claims include:
- Equipment or manufacturer defects: When equipment malfunctions and causes an injury, the manufacturer may be held accountable.
- Improper safety practices: An employee may work for one employer on a job involving other companies (as in the case described above). If the second company should have and did not follow proper safety guidelines, it may be held liable for the accident.
- Premises liability: An injury sustained by a worker on someone else’s property as a result of a known danger may result in a third-party liability claim.
Bottom line, workers’ compensation is limited. It does not cover noneconomic or punitive damages. Big bills can stack up quickly. If recklessness or negligence caused the injury, third-party claims might be one more path to justice.
Because these are often complicated legal issues, your best bet if injured at work – no matter how straightforward it looks – is to contact a personal injury lawyer.