Workers’ compensation was always designed to be a limited remedy for injured workers. It was never intended to provide workers with anything other than the means to get the necessary care that they need, financial support for their families, and some limited compensation for their injuries. In return, injured workers relinquish their right to bring lawsuits against their employer and co-workers for injuries they sustain on the job.
However, even when they receive workers’ compensation benefits, injured workers in New Jersey still have the right to file a civil lawsuit against persons other than their employer and co-workers to recover damages above and beyond the limits of workers compensation.
A Brief Overview of Workers Compensation In New Jersey
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system, meaning that you are covered for any injury you sustain on the job, whether you, your employer or co-worker are to blame, as long as you suffered the injury as a result of your employment, or during the course of your employment, you are eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits regardless of fault.
The downside to workers compensation is that even in the event that your employer was grossly negligent in causing your injury, he cannot be held liable to you for anything other than workers’ compensation benefits. Because of this, when you are injured on the job, works compensation only provides you with a limited set of remedies against your employer.
Workers’ compensation in New Jersey only provided the following benefits:
- The cost of necessary medical care and treatment
- Loss of income
- Permanent Partial Disability
- Permanent Total Disability
- Limited wrongful death benefits
The amount of monetary compensation you receive through workers’ compensation is determined by state law. In other words, legal statutes determine the maximum and minimum benefits a person can receive for a given injury based on general guidelines that apply to every worker’s compensation claim alike.
Third-Party Liability Lawsuits
Many injured workers believe that when they are injured on the job, they are only entitled to recover workers’ compensation benefits. However, this is far from the truth. If you are injured on the job, you have the right to file a civil lawsuit against whoever else may have caused or contributed to the accident in which you were injured, other than your employer or your co-workers.
The amount of compensation you receive through a civil lawsuit will largely be determined by the severity of your injuries, and is generally vastly greater than the amount available to you under workers’ compensation.
Typically, a civil lawsuit will allow you to recover the following damages:
- Compensation for past and future medical expenses;
- Past and future wages;
- Past pain and suffering
- Disfigurement; and
- Emotional distress.
This type of civil lawsuit that is brought against someone other than your employer or co-worker in order to recover damages for injuries you’ve sustained on the job is called a third-party liability lawsuit.
You are not required to choose between a workers compensation claim or a civil lawsuit–– you can pursue both. Furthermore, if you lose your third-party liability lawsuit, your workers’ compensation will not be affected. However, if you win your third-party liability lawsuit, your employer has a right to be reimbursed for the amount of workers’ compensation benefits that were paid to you.
So for example, let’s say that you are a delivery driver and were out making deliveries for your employer when you were rear-ended at a stop light and suffered a herniated disc on your lower back. Your employer is clearly is not to blame for your injury, bus still has an obligation to pay your workers’ compensation benefits, which for the purpose of the example amounted to $45, 000.
If you then bring a third-party liability lawsuit against the driver who rear ended you and receive a judgment of $100,000, you would first have to reimburse your employer for the $45,000 in workers’ compensation benefits you received while pursuing the third-party claim and thus would receive a net verdict of $55,000.
How do Third-Party Liability Lawsuits Arise?
There are many ways in which third-party liability can arise, and they are as varied as the ways in which you can be injured on the job. Here are the most common:
- Motor Vehicle accidents – If you have to drive as part of your work duties, you risk being involved in a motor vehicle accident. If you are injured in motor vehicle accident, you can pursue both workers’ compensation benefits as well as a personal injury lawsuit against the driver of the vehicle that caused the accident.
- Faulty equipment – If you are injured on the job as a result of faulty equipment or machinery, you can bring a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the equipment or machinery in addition to your workers’ compensation claim.
- Defective products – You may have been injured by a defective product such as an electronic device that shorts out and seriously burn you while you are using it. You would, of course, be entitled to a workers compensation claim since the injury happened on the job, but you could also sue the manufacturer of the device as well.
- Subcontractor – You may be injured by a subcontractor who does not follow the same safety practice as you do. This is common on construction sites, where your employer may hire subcontractors to work alongside you. In this situation, you may bring a third pay lawsuit against the subcontractor for injuries that they cause by their recklessness or negligence.
- Dangerous designs – You could be injured as a result of the decision made by a third-party such as a project manager, engineer or architect, perhaps because they made an error in the design or in the supervision of a project. For example, they may have erred in the designed or measurement of a construction beam that later collapses and injures you. You would then be entitled to bring a third-party liability lawsuit against whoever designed or the beam or was in charge of the project to recover damages above and beyond your workers’ compensation benefits.
- Property hazards – You could be injured on someone’s else’s property when performing work for your employer. You could then file a personal injury lawsuit against the property owner if some hazard on the property causes or contributes to an accident in which you are injured.
Third-Party Liability Claim vs. Workers’ Compensation Benefits
While there are some clear advantages to filing a third-party liability lawsuit in terms of the amount and range of damages that can be recovered for an injury suffered in the workplace, workers’ compensation still offers some advantages over third-party claims:
- A third-party liability claims only compensates you if you can prove negligence on the part of the responsible party. But with a workers compensation claim you have no such requirement and you will be compensated regardless of who was at fault for your injuries, even when the fault is your own. This is why workers’ compensation is referred to as a no-fault system. Contrast this with a third-party claim where fault is of the utmost importance.
- Third-party liability claims can be extremely time-consuming and difficult to prosecute, often taking years to reach a settlement or a verdict. You need to gather evidence, attempt to negotiate a settlement with the responsible party’s insurance company, and when that doesn’t work, go to trial and present your evidence in a way that a jury will rule in your favor.
Workers’ compensation, on the other hand, is a very simple process. Ideally, you simply notify your employer of your injury, and once your claim has been approved, you will begin to receive your benefits.
That being said, if you have been injured in a workplace accident where someone other than your employer or a co-worker is to blame, a workers compensation claim and a third-party liability lawsuit, when used to together, can provide you with the maximum amount of benefit and compensation.
Consult With a New Jersey Personal Injury Attorney
The interplay between workers compensation and third-party liability is very complex, so you should consult with an experienced attorney if you have been injured in an accident that might have both workers compensation and third-party liability implications. Having an attorney who understands how both cases should be handled together can make a big difference in the amount of compensation you ultimately receive for your workplace injury.