Workers’ compensation provides injured workers with much-needed benefits including wage replacement and medical coverage. However, there are limits on the types and amounts of damages you can collect. If the negligence of a party other than your employer caused your work-related injury in Atlanta, you may have another legal avenue in which to pursue compensation. In addition to your workers’ compensation claim, you can file a third party claim, often referred to as a personal injury claim or third-party liability claim.
Filing a Third-Party Claim
With workers’ compensation, fault does not come into play. In exchange for the security of your workers’ compensation benefits, you cannot sue your employer.
With a personal injury lawsuit, on the other hand, you will have the burden of proof to show that a third party was somehow negligent and that the negligence was the cause of your injury. You’ll need to present evidence to establish the elements of your claim.
You can file a workers’ compensation and a third party personal injury claim simultaneously.
Workers’ Compensation vs. Personal Injury Settlements
There’s a notable difference between the types and amounts of damages and/or benefits you can receive with each type of claim:
- Workers’ compensation settlements – There’s a cap on the amount of workers’ compensation benefits you can receive. Injured workers are entitled to income replacement (two-thirds of your average weekly pay before your injury, but no more than $525/week), medical benefits, and vocational rehabilitation. Injured workers may also be entitled to permanent partial disability benefits; however, injured workers cannot recover compensation for pain and suffering through their workers’ compensation claims.
- Personal injury – With a personal injury suit, you can fully recover your damages if you can prove the third party was at fault. Compensable damages include your current and future lost wages, medical bills, disfigurement, the effect of your injury on your well-being, pain and suffering, and other damages.
Types of Third-Party Claims for Workplace Injuries
Some examples of third-party claims include:
- Transportation incidents (filed against a third-party driver or vehicle/vehicle part manufacturer);
- Chemical exposure accidents (if the manufacturer/distributor of the chemical acted negligently, leading to the accident); and
- Machinery and equipment accidents (filed against a person who improperly designed, manufactured or repaired the equipment).
The above list of potential types of third-party claims is by no means all-inclusive. If a third party’s negligence led to a workplace accident and injury, you may have grounds for a third-party claim.
A Note about Subrogation
If workers’ compensation has paid you benefits or covered your medical care, and you later file a third-party claim, the workers’ compensation insurer might try to recover the monies they paid to you or on your behalf. They can do this by filing a lien against your third-party case, a process known as subrogation.
An attorney can try to prevent this from happening. Under Georgia law, in order for a workers’ compensation insurer to subrogate your third-party personal injury claim, they must prove that you were made whole. These types of cases are complex. Speak with an attorney to discuss the fine print and take the steps necessary to protect your assets.
The Exclusive Remedy Doctrine
The exclusive remedy doctrine is a major part of the no-fault compromise underlying workers’ compensation law. It enables workers to recover damages through the quicker and more efficient administrative process without having to prove that the employer is to blame for their injury. However, it also limits the injured employee’s recovery to the amounts set forth in the statute and bars them from bringing further action against their employer in tort.
Apportioning Fault Among a Single Defendant
Where this all becomes incredibly frustrating for injured workers is when they in fact do have a case against a liable third party, but where the employer also bears some fault. Personal injury law generally requires juries to determine each party’s share of the blame for an injury, and apportion damages accordingly. When an injured plaintiff is partly to blame for the accident, the principle of comparative fault requires juries to reduce their total recovery from other liable parties in proportion to that fault. When two or more tortfeasors are jointly liable, the jury is required to apportion damages among them accordingly.
However, what happens when one of the liable parties is not a party to the case because they have already settled or because they have legal immunity from liability? Georgia law now unequivocally states that the jury must consider the fault of these parties even though they have not been named in the lawsuit or introduced any evidence of their own. In essence, this allows the defendant to place all the blame on the empty chair and puts the burden of defending another liable party entirely on the plaintiff. It is hard to imagine a more unjust result, but this is now the state of the law in Georgia.
A Silver Lining?
Perhaps the only positive thing that can come from this ruling from a plaintiff’s perspective is that it makes an employer’s subrogation claim against certain tort recoveries less likely. Unfortunately, the reason for this is that the total recovery will have been diminished to the point that the plaintiff has not been made whole. At the same time, it may provoke some employers to more actively exercise their right to intervene in such lawsuits so as to protect their subrogation rights. If they are not at fault, they have a legitimate claim to recover what they have paid in workers’ compensation benefits from the liable party. However, their chance of doing so is substantially reduced if that party is permitted to slander them in court without them being present to defend themselves. This means that we will likely see more employers take active roles in their employee’s suits against third parties—assuming the legal expenses are worth it to them. Time will tell whether that assumption will be justified in enough cases to protect injured workers from the worst consequences of this latest ruling.
Contact an Attorney Now If You’re Ready to File a Claim!
If you’re ready to file your claim for damages, don’t wait any longer to take action. You have two years from the date of injury to file your claim for damages, per Georgia Code Section 9-3-33. At Bader Scott Injury Lawyers, our attorneys are ready to advise you on whether or not you have a third-party liability claim for damages (or whether should file your claim under workers’ compensation insurance), how to file your claim, and what benefits you may be awarded as a result. To meet with our legal team at your earliest convenience, schedule your consultation now by calling 678-562-5595.