In 2010 there were 85,560 lost-time work injury claims filed with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Worker’s Compensation. Since the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Program is a no-fault system that provides for lost wages and payment of medical expenses, many Pennsylvania injured workers were relieved that their claim was acknowledged by their employer’s Workers’ Compensation carrier or that they were successful in litigating their compensation case.
Relieved that they were getting wage loss benefits and that their employer or its insurance carrier would be paying for their medical expenses, many workers felt that they were “made whole” by the Workers’ Compensation system. However, what many injured workers or their Workers’ Compensation attorneys do not fully understand is that any time there is a work-related injury there is a potential for a claim within a claim to exist against someone other than their employer.
In short, many work-related injuries have the potential for a personal injury lawsuit as well. This is what is referred to as a “third-party” claim. Since an injured employee cannot bring a personal injury lawsuit against his/her employer for a work- related injury, the injured employee is limited to Workers’ Compensation benefits from the employer. However, most of the damages suffered by the injured worker are not included in the Workers’ Compensation award. These damages include non-economic losses such as pain and suffering, humiliation, disfigurement, depression, loss of life’s pleasures, impairment in the quality of a person’s life and the non-injured spouse’s loss of consortium claim. These damages, in addition to wage losses and payment of medical bills, are intended by our civil justice system to compensate a person for all of their losses and make them whole.
That is why it is important for a work injury victim to investigate whether they might have a claim against another party. For example, if a person is hurt at work on an unguarded machine, the injury victim might have a products liability claim against the manufacturer of the machine.
Moreover, it is important that injured workers understand all of their rights when it comes to work-related accidents. Simply because the injured worker may have been accused by his/her employer of committing some type of action that may have contributed to his accident does not prevent an injured person from bringing a personal injury lawsuit.
In many work-related accidents, the negligence of the injured worker is not even relevant in a personal injury lawsuit. An injured worker can be 100% negligent in causing the accident but if the injured worker was injured by a defective or unsafepiece of equipment or machine, then the injured worker may have a product liability claim against the manufacturer of that equipment. The manufacturer will be strictly liable without fault.
Even when fault is an issue in a personal injury case, proper investigation can show that the injured worker’s negligence or fault for the accident was only one cause or a contributing cause of the accident. In any personal injury lawsuit, the focus should always be on showing and proving what the contributing causes were that led to an accident.
Because of the intricacies of the law and highly technical aspects of third party claims, an experienced personal injury and products liability attorney is essential to establishing your case. If you have questions about potential workplace injury claims, contact Richard Jurewicz at Galfand Berger LLP by calling 1-800-222-USWA (8792) or emailing him at [email protected].