Workers’ compensation and personal injury are quite different areas of law.
In a personal injury case, a person brings seeks a payment of money – known as a damages award – from the party whose failure to act with due care caused his or her injury. Damages can include payments for wages lost from the time of the injury to date and into the future, the cost of medical expenses for the initial treatment and ongoing and a payment to offset pain and suffering. In a personal injury case the suing party has to prove that someone else’s negligence caused their pain, suffering and other damages, and the courts will provide a damage award designed to make the injury party whole again.
Workers’ compensation claims are quite different. The system is designed primarily to replace lost wages, not to make the injured person whole. In order to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits, a worker only has to show that he or she was injured at work and that the injury caused an incapacity. The worker does not have to prove that the injury was the result of negligence. However, the worker cannot sue for pain and suffering as in a personal injury lawsuit. The system is thus more inclusive – all injured workers receive benefits – and the cases easier to win without the need to prove negligence, but the benefits are limited from the kind of pain and suffering awards that make up the largest part of most personal injury damage awards.
These two areas of law overlap, however, when a worker is injured by the negligence of someone other than the employer. For example, a worker who is driving a truck for his employer may be injured in a motor vehicle accident by a random other driver on the road. In these instances, the worker may be able to pursue benefits through the workers’ compensation system, but may also pursue a personal injury claim against the person who caused the injury. Workers’ compensation lawyers refer to these as ‘third party’ claims.
Third party personal injury cases are tricky business, even for experienced lawyers. The third party caused damages to the worker, but that third party is also responsible for causing the workers’ compensation insurer to have to pay benefits to the worker. Workers’ compensation law provides a mechanism for the workers’ compensation insurer to recover some of its loss from any award of damages as a result of the workers’ personal injury action against the third party. Suffice it to say that the law about workers’ compensation third party settlements is rather complex, even for experienced attorneys. A lawyer who can successfully resolve a third party injury case and have it approved through the workers’ compensation system has earned his paycheck.