Third-Party Liability and the Search for Truth After a Work Injury

After an on-the-job injury, nearly all Colorado workers are entitled to receive workers' compensation benefits. Workers' compensation provides coverage for medical treatment related to the work injury and wage-loss benefits if the worker needs time off to recover. In addition, workers with permanent impairments may be entitled to ongoing total- or partial-disability benefits.

However, while these benefits are certainly helpful, there are some limitations to the Colorado workers' compensation system. For example, wage-loss benefits are capped at a weekly maximum and employers are not required to provide compensation for non-economic damages like pain and suffering.

Injured workers may have alternate sources of recovery, though, if it can be shown that a negligent third party was responsible for causing the accident. In cases where someone other than the employer was at least partially at fault, an injured worker may be able to bring a personal injury lawsuit in addition to recovering workers' compensation benefits. Personal injury lawsuits can also provide an avenue for recovery for contract workers who are not covered by workers' compensation insurance.

Winning a personal injury lawsuit can be much more challenging than securing workers' compensation benefits, though. It is not enough to simply show that the injury was work-related. Instead, the injured worker must be able to point to specific acts of negligence that caused the accident.

After an accident, a potentially negligent third party is expected to disclose all relevant evidence. Unfortunately, many often do not, making it all the more important for injured workers to seek the assistance of an experienced and aggressive attorney.

Wal-Mart's Untruths Lead to Big Verdict

Take, for example, a recent lawsuit involving a truck driver who was injured while making a delivery at a Colorado Wal-Mart store.

The accident occurred in 2007. The truck driver - a woman by the name of Holly Averyt - slipped and fell while making a delivery at the Greeley Wal-Mart. In doing so, she sustained injuries to her back, shoulder and neck. Her injuries were so severe that she could no longer earn a living as a truck driver. Averyt claimed that the fall was caused by a grease spill on the store's loading dock.

Because she was a contract worker, Averyt was ineligible for workers' compensation benefits. Instead, she brought a lawsuit against the Greeley Wal-Mart, claiming that it was negligent in allowing the grease spill to exist.

In its defense, Wal-Mart vehemently denied the existence of the grease spill. It said that if the spill had existed, the company would have records documenting it. Wal-Mart frequently claimed that there were no such documents.

Averyt's attorney had identified an eyewitness who could testify that he had seen the grease spill two days before Averyt fell. However, without more evidence, the lawsuit still would have been hard to win.

In the days leading up to the trial, Averyt's attorney continued to do research in an attempt to learn more about how Wal-Mart's grease traps worked. In doing so, the attorney obtained a report from the City of Greeley that proved Wal-Mart had been wrong about the grease spill.

The report documented a grease spill and related investigation at the Greeley Wal-Mart. It also noted that city inspectors had observed Wal-Mart employees attempting to clean up the spill four days after Averyt was hurt. Apparently, there was a problem with the grease traps in the store's deli, which meant the grease was not always directed to where it was supposed to go.

When a representative from Wal-Mart once again denied the existence of the spill, Averyt's attorney used the report to impeach his testimony. After requesting a brief recess, Wal-Mart did a complete about-face: it claimed a store manager now remembered the grease spill, but the store was not liable because it exercised reasonable care to clean it up.

Despite Wal-Mart's best efforts to hide the truth, the jury ultimately sided with Averyt. It awarded her nearly $15 million, though state damage caps brought the award down to approximately $10 million.

Effective Representation Makes a Big Difference

This case highlights the importance of consulting with an experienced attorney after a work-related accident, especially in cases of third-party liability.

Every worker has a right to be kept safe on the job. That right does not go away simply because the worker is visiting another company's premises.

Seriously injured workers have a right to be compensated for the harm that has been done to them. However, these personal injury verdicts can be expensive, and that unfortunately means that negligent companies will often do whatever it takes to escape liability. In those cases, it is important to have a strong advocate who can uncover the evidence needed to hold the company liable.

If you have been hurt in an on-the-job accident, talk to a Colorado workers' compensation attorney who can help you protect your rights.