When workers are injured on the job in California, they have the right to seek workers' compensation benefits from their employers. However, when workers are injured because of the negligence of another individual or entity unrelated to their employers, injured workers may also have a case against those parties. These types of claims, which are separate from workers' compensation cases, are known as third-party claims.
Greenberg And Ruby Injury Attorneys, APC have extensive knowledge and experience in handling work injury cases, particularly third-party claims. We will meticulously review your workplace accident case and help determine if you may also have a viable case against a negligent third party. This can help maximize your recovery.
Understanding Third-Party Liability
The workers' compensation system in California is a no-fault insurance system that was established to facilitate a relatively smooth process to help injured workers claim much-needed compensation for medical expenses and lost wages after suffering a workplace injury. However, in a majority of cases, the workers' compensation system prevents workers from suing their employers. At the same time, it is a no-fault system, which means that the injured worker doesn't have to show that the employer was negligent in order to receive these benefits.
In some situations, another person or entity - someone other than the worker's employer - may have liability in a work injury case.
Here are some of the most common situations in which our work injury lawyers have found third parties liable for workplace accidents and injuries:
Motor vehicle accidents: If you were driving and were on the job at the time of your car accident, you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver in addition to filing a workers' compensation claim with your employer.
Construction accidents: In construction accident cases, a number of injuries result in third-party claims because there are usually a number of different work crews from different companies working on the project. Typically, there are contractors, sub-contractors and property owners who are involved in what happens on a construction site. So, if you are injured in a construction accident, you may be able to file a third-party claim against one or more parties, depending on the facts and circumstances of your particular case.
Defective products: Some work-related mishaps occur because of a malfunctioning or defective tool or piece of equipment. Tools used in construction and other industries may cause limb amputations, electrocution or crushing injuries. In such cases, if the accident was caused by a product defect or defective part, workers may be able to file a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer.
Liability of property owners: Workers may also suffer injuries when they are on someone else's property. For example, if you were legally on someone property and suffered a trip-and-fall accident because the property owner had failed to fix a broken stair, you may have a claim against the negligent property owner and/or manager.
Proving Negligence in a Third-Party Claim
A third-party claim is essentially a personal injury lawsuit, which is handled in civil court. In such cases, injured workers have the burden of proof. In other words, plaintiffs in work injury cases must present evidence that their injuries, damages and losses were caused by the defendant's negligence or wrongdoing. They must prove their case by a "preponderance of the evidence," which means that the evidence must show that it is more than 50% likely that the defendant's negligence caused the plaintiff's injuries and losses.
The elements of a third-party claim that a plaintiff must prove include:
Duty of care: Plaintiffs must be able to show that a "duty of care" existed between the plaintiff and the defendant. For example, drivers have a responsibility to operate their vehicle with care. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and driving while distracted are examples of how motorists breach their duty of care to others on the road. Similarly, a product manufacturer owes a duty of care to their consumer or users of their products. A property owner has the responsibility to maintain safe conditions on his or her property due to premises liability laws.
Breach of duty: Plaintiffs in work injury or personal injury cases must also be able to demonstrate that the duty of care owed to them was breached or violated by the defendant. For example, when the work-related injury is directly caused by dangerous conditions on the property, which should have been repaired, then the property owner can be held liable for the victim's losses.
Causation: The third element is causation, which means, plaintiffs must present evidence that the defendant's negligence or breach of the duty of care was the direct cause of the plaintiff's accident and injuries. For example, if a worker's injuries were caused by a defective piece of machinery, the manufacturer of that product can be held liable because the faulty product directly caused the worker's injuries.
Damages: The injured worker must also show that he or she suffered injuries, damages and losses as a result of the workplace accident. This may include physical injuries including permanent injuries, disabilities and disfigurement, loss of earnings, medical expenses, etc.
Third Parties and Criteria for Workplace Injury Liability
In most cases, workers cannot directly file a lawsuit against their employers following a workplace injury. Depending on the details and circumstances, even in cases where an employer may have been negligent in maintaining a safe work environment, employees may not be able to sue their employer for negligence. There are, however, exceptions where an employee may be able to sue his or her employer – but only in certain circumstances.
If you have been seriously injured in a workplace accident and are looking to claim damages such as pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and punitive damages, you may have to file a third-party lawsuit or an independent personal injury lawsuit against a party other than the employer. Third parties may include a negligent co-worker, the manufacturer of a defective product, a negligent property owner or any other third party that caused the workplace injury.
Employers are still liable for the workers' medical expenses and a portion of lost pay for as long as injured workers are unable to return to work. If a worker requires additional medical treatment (connected to the workplace injury) after he or she returns to work, the employer must bear those expenses as well. If you have suffered a permanent injury or disability as a result of your on-the-job injury, then your employer must compensate you.
All these types of compensation are provided through the workers' compensation system. But, if you wish to seek compensation for other losses such as pain and suffering, it is important that you consult with an experienced workplace injury attorney to better understand your options.
Damages in Third Party Work Injury Lawsuits
Third-party lawsuits are different from workers' compensation claims because they allow the worker to seek damages for pain and suffering and other losses that are typically not covered under workers' comp. If you were injured on the job, you may be able to file both a workers' compensation claim and a third-party lawsuit. Through workers' comp, you can get not only wage loss benefits, but also the money you need for medical expenses, while the personal injury case (third-party lawsuit) is pending.
Employers can demand that the third party reimburse them for the compensation they paid out to the employee. This is known as subrogation. This amount typically includes all the lost wages and medical expenses the employer may have paid the worker. Our experienced third-party work injury lawyers can help you understand how compensation and reimbursement works in these cases.
Proven Third-Party Claim Attorneys
The Los Angeles work injury lawyers at Greenberg and Ruby have significant experience handling work injury claims, especially third-party lawsuits. It is important to understand that while workers' comp benefits may compensate you for medical expenses and a portion of lost wages, it doesn't reimburse workers for other major losses such as lost earning capacity, lifelong disabilities and pain and suffering. In cases where a worker has suffered a catastrophic injury or where a family has lost a primary wage earner, workers' comp benefits are extremely inadequate. A third-party lawsuit is typically worth significantly more than workers' compensation benefits.
If you have been injured in a workplace accident, Greenberg And Ruby Injury Attorneys helps you explore all avenues of compensation and maximize the financial recovery in your case. Call us at (323) 782-0535 for a free consultation and comprehensive case evaluation.