Most Georgia employers are careful to adhere to both state and federal guidelines regarding workers’ compensation insurance and collaborate with their injured employees to ensure that they receive the medical attention and lost wages that they deserve. However, in some instances, a third party may also be responsible for contributing to or causing an employee’s injury. In these cases, the third party can be held legally responsible for the costs associated with treating the injury as well as lost wages and pain and suffering, so if you or a loved one were injured at work and have reason to believe that the condition was caused or exacerbated by a third party, it is critical to contact a dedicated workers’ compensation lawyer who can help you hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions.
Third Party Negligence
Georgia law protects employers from being sued by their employees for work-related injuries. This ensures that injured parties are able to collect compensation, while protecting employers from being forced to pay for an employee’s recovery twice. However, injured parties are permitted to file personal injury suits against third parties at the same time as workers’ compensation claim. Third party liability arises when an accident at work is caused by the negligence of an individual who is separate from the employer. For example, if an employee slips and falls on a wet floor while at work and suffers a back injury as a result, the employee could file a workers’ compensation claim, but can also file a lawsuit against the cleaning company who failed to warn others that the floor was wet.
Third party claims are most common on construction sites, where multiple individuals, including contractors, subcontractors, architects, roofers, electricians, and plumbers all work independently on the same site. In this scenario, if a worker breaks his or her leg after a scaffolding collapse, he or she may be able to bring a claim against the scaffolding company for negligently setting it up. Construction site accidents can be especially painful due to the presence of heavy machinery, precarious heights, and dangerous tools. Injured parties may suffer a variety of injuries ranging from broken bones and lacerations to burns and illness from exposure to toxins.
Treating these injuries can be expensive and include paying for some or all of the following:
- Multiple surgeries;
- Emergency treatment;
- Physical therapy;
- Follow-up visits;
- Appointments with specialists; and
- Chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
While workers’ compensation covers past and future medical expenses, it does not fully compensate injured parties for the time they have to take off in order to recuperate. This can make it much harder for injured employees to cover additional expenses, which may include child care and transportation costs.
Other parties whose negligence often leads to workplace accidents, include:
- Manufacturers, distributors, and sellers of defective products;
- Non-employer project managers and site supervisors;
- The driver of another vehicle;
- Vendors or contractors;
- Rental companies;
- Non-employers who are in charge of maintaining equipment; and
- The owners of the property where the injury occurred.
Filing a third party liability claim gives injured workers the opportunity to collect damages that are not available through the workers’ compensation program. For instance, workers’ compensation benefits include payments to settle medical bills and 2/3 of an injured party’s regular salary. There is also a cap on the total amount that an injured party can receive over time. A personal injury lawsuit, on the other hand, allows injured employees to recover additional damages, including those that cover:
- Lost earning potential;
- Emotional distress;
- Pain and suffering; and
- Punitive damages.
Although a plaintiff may be able to recover more damages in a personal injury suit, he or she may also be required to repay an employer some or all of the funds paid through a workers’ compensation claim. This is known as a subrogation lien, although an employer is not permitted to pursue it until the injured party has been fully compensated for his or her losses.
Injured parties are not required to demonstrate their employer’s negligence to collect compensation under a workers compensation claim. Instead, the employee just needs to establish that the injury was caused while the employee was working. Personal injury lawsuits, on the other hand, require that plaintiffs establish that another party’s negligence caused the accident by demonstrating that:
- The third party owed a duty of care to the plaintiff;
- The third party breached that duty by behaving unreasonably; and
- The plaintiff was injured as a result of the breach.
It is only when negligence has been established that injured parties will be able to obtain a measure of compensation for their injuries. There can be an exception in cases involving manufacturers who develop and produce a defective product. In these instance, injured parties may be able to bring a strict liability claim, in which the responsible parties can be held liable just by establishing the existence of a defect that caused an injury.
When an injured employee files a third party claim, the court may hold a proceeding to determine what percentage of the liability belongs to the employer and what percentage belongs to the third party. This in turn will allow for the employer to be reimbursed from the third party for the amounts already paid to the injured party in workers’ compensation.
Contact an Augusta Workers’ Compensation Attorney Today
While workers’ compensation is an effective means of ensuring that workers injured on the job are provided for medically, in some cases, the funds received through this program are simply not enough to cover all of the costs, so if you or a loved one live in Augusta and recently sustained an injury while at your workplace and you have evidence of a third party’s culpability, please contact the law firm of Ted A. Greve & Associates, P.A. to schedule a free consultation with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney who can help you file the necessary claims to ensure that you recover the compensation you deserve.