Workers can't sue their employers. But third parties are fair game.
A New York construction worker survived a 45-foot fall but suffered disabling injuries when lift equipment failed during a church ceiling restoration project. He recently reached a settlement for $3.8 million against the church for major injuries to his ankles, spine, head and hand.
This is a prime example of third-party liability for workplace accidents. Although his employer owned the bucket lift, the man could not sue his employer under workers' compensation law. But he could bring a lawsuit against the property owner (a church). If you are injured on the job, an attorney can determine if you have personal injury claims in addition to workers' comp.
When can you sue a third party for a work injury?
In exchange for medical care and wage benefits, you cannot sue your co-workers or your employer for a job-related injury. That is the trade-off of workers' compensation. However, other individuals or entities are fair game if their negligence caused or contributed to your injuries. For example, you might have an actionable case against:
- A building owner who created a safety hazard
- A manufacturer of defective machinery
- Another subcontractor on the same work site
- A utility company that failed to shut off power lines
- A driver who crashed into you while you were driving on-duty
Do you have to choose one or other?
No. You can pursue both claims. For example, the construction worker who fell from the bucket lift collected $380,000 in workers' compensation benefits -- separate and apart from his settlement with the church. The workers' comp insurer may seek subrogation (reimbursement), which would be deducted from your personal injury proceeds.
Can you ever sue your own company?
Under Colorado law, workers' comp is the "exclusive remedy" between employers and employees. You can sue your employer directly only in rare situations, such as reckless disregard for safety regulations or intentional conduct like being assaulted by your supervisor.
Source: Injured Worker Settles for $3.8M After Fall From Church Ceiling (New York Law Journal)