Workplace Injuries and Third-Party Claims

The Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety has issued its 2014 report, ranking the top causes of serious, workplace injuries. The report is based upon workers’ compensation claims data from year 2012 and data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among the leading causes of workplace injuries were:

• Overexertion • Falls • Being struck by an object or equipment • Roadway incidents involving vehicles • Being caught in or compressed by equipment or objects • Repetitive motions involving small or micro tasks
When an employee suffers a workplace injury that causes him or her to miss a certain number of days of work, the employee is entitled to file a workers’ compensation claim. Virtually all states have a workers’ compensation award schedule that limits the employee’s recovery to a portion of the employee’s wages for a specific number of weeks. Additionally, the employee may be entitled to a lump sum payment to compensate the employee for any permanent impairment resulting from the injury. Because workers’ compensation benefits are limited by law, the injured employee is rarely made whole.

Employees and attorneys sometime overlook potential claims against third-parties, whose negligence played a role in the workplace injury. While an injured employee cannot sue his employer, there is generally no prohibition against suing a third-party whose negligence played a role in the employee’s workplace injury. There are a number of examples of such third-party claims. Consider the case of a construction employee who was working on the ground at the jobsite when a crane operator for another company negligently lowered a boom that struck and killed the employee who was on the ground. We were able to sue the company who employed the crane operator and recovered damages that were not limited by any workers’ compensation award schedule. Likewise, consider the case of an employee driving a company vehicle as part of his work duties who was injured in an automobile collision caused the negligence of the other driver. We were able to sue the negligent driver and recover damages that were greater than the benefits the employee would have received had he filed a workers’ compensation claim against his own employer. There are also many examples of cases involving employees who were injured due to defective equipment that was being utilized by their employers. In those cases, there may be potential product liability claims against the manufacturers of the defective equipment in which the damages awards would not be limited by any workers’ compensation award schedule.

Workplace injuries can have significant consequences on the victims. Benefits to which the victims are entitled under workers’ compensation are often inadequate and do not completely compensate the victim for his or her injuries and losses. When a person is injured on the job, it is important that the employee and attorney investigate thoroughly whether the negligence of a third-party caused or contributed to the cause of the injury. That may present the opportunity to file a lawsuit against the negligent third-party, and recover damages that are not limited by the workers’ compensation award schedule.