What is a Third-Party Lawsuit?
Those who have suffered a work-related injury or illness are probably aware they have a right to workers’ compensation benefits. They may have even heard these benefits are the only remedy against an employer in these matters, even if the company was 100 percent responsible for what happened.
Third parties – that is, anyone other than the employer or co-workers – are not protected under the exclusive remedy provision of Massachusetts workers’ compensation law. That means they – unlike the employer – CAN be sued in a civil negligence case.
Workers’ compensation will provide immediate benefits on a no-fault basis, allowing an injured worker to avoid elephant-sized medical bills and to recover a portion of lost wages. Coverage may also be provided for vocational assistance after a long-term leave, and families of those killed will also receive assistance.
But for all the positives of the workers’ compensation system, the unfortunate side of it is it will not provide coverage for all of one’s losses. It can’t reimburse you for your pain and suffering. It can’t offer you the full amount of the wages you lost, or the full extent of your lost earning capacity. And it can’t provide your spouse with compensation for loss of consortium for what he or she has endured alongside you.
This is why our Boston workers’ compensation lawyers always carefully review work injury cases to determine whether there is the possibility of third-party liability.Third-Party Claims - Explained
Third-party liability lawsuits arise when a workplace accident happens due to the negligence of a person or entity separate from the worker’s employer.
Some examples of liable third-parties are:
- Other contractors on a construction site
- General contractors
- Building and property owners
- Maintenance companies
- Other drivers
- Commercial trucking or driving firms
- Manufacturers of defective or dangerous products
- Security firms
- Attacker in workplace violence
In some cases, it’s easy to determine who liable third-parties are. In other cases, it requires more intensive research, including an interview of experts, review of medical records and examination of all existing photographic and video surveillance material.
Note that a person can collect BOTH workers’ compensation and third-party damages. However, it’s possible your workers’ compensation insurance carrier will seek recompense from that damage award for expenses already paid to you. For example, if you receive $80,000 from workers’ compensation for coverage of medical bills, but then recover that same amount from a third-party negligence lawsuit, your employer’s insurance carrier can seek an offset of benefits.Third-Party Lawsuit Proof Burden
In workers’ compensation cases, it’s not necessary to show the employer was at-fault. In fact, a worker could be 100 percent to blame for what happened and still collect benefits.
Not so in third-party litigation arising from work injuries. It may depend on the theory of negligence being asserted, but generally, the worker will need to show:
- Defendant owed a duty of care to worker
- That duty was breached
- That breach proximately caused worker’s injuries
- Workers injuries were substantial enough to require compensation
If a worker was partially to blame for what happened, the defendant may fight back with an assertion of “comparative negligence” or “contributory negligence.” This means the worker shares the blame for the accident or incident that caused injury or illness.
Per MGL ch. 231 §85, contributory negligence doesn’t prohibit a plaintiff from recovery in a negligence action resulting in injury or death, but it can limit the damages sought.
So for example, if a jury decides the case in your favor, but determines you were 20 percent at fault, you would only receive 80 percent of the damage award.
Still, you may be able to recover far more than what you would under the workers’ compensation system. These would include:
- Medical bills
- Future medical bills
- Full lost wages
- Full future lost earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Future pain and suffering
- Loss of life enjoyment
- Loss of consortium
Because of the greater extent of losses covered in successful third-party litigation, it’s good to at least explore the option with an attorney.Examples of Third-Party Liability
Third-party liability could depend on a host of factors, and there is no exhaustive list of examples available. However, here are a few instances in which we have seen workers reimbursed by third parties for occupational injuries:
- Motor Vehicle Accident: If you are driving for a work-related purpose and are injured due to the negligence of another driver, you may file a lawsuit against that driver. If that driver was uninsured, you may be able to collect from your own personal insurance carrier through uninsured motorist coverage benefits.
- Dangerous/ Defective Products: When products used in the course of employment prove dangerous or defective, resulting in injury or illness, workers can take action against the maker and/or distributor of those products.
- Premises Liability: If the owner of a construction site or other work site failed to maintain that property in a reasonably safe condition, resulting in injury, a worker may file a third-party claim.
- Negligence by Other Contractors: If someone on a worksite other than your employer or co-worker is negligent and causes injury, this may be grounds for third-party litigation.
The statute of limitations on third-party negligence is three years from the date of injury or illness or the time at which a worker should have realized the injury or illness. Workers’ compensation claims must be filed within four years.
Still, in both cases, it’s best to take action early to give breathing room in case of unforeseen issues.
Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman today for a free and confidential consultation.
Call (617) 367-2900 – NO FEE UNLESS SUCCESSFUL