Workers’ compensation coverage in New Jersey pays for the costs of a work-related injury or illness. When a worker is hurt in an accident, develops medical problems due to repetitive stress or gets sick from being exposed to toxins or hazards at work, workers’ compensation pays for the costs of medical treatments and provides disability benefits that give the worker much-needed income.
The workers’ compensation laws exist to make sure injured workers are provided for – but in one important way, they limit the rights of workers. They do this by preventing workers from filing a personal injury lawsuit against an employer.
This limitation significantly impacts the ability of a worker or surviving family members to obtain full compensation for all economic and non-economic losses. As such, many workers or loved ones of those killed on the job will consider making a third-party liability claim whenever possible.
At Davis, Saperstein & Salomon, P.C., we have years of experience in filing personal injury lawsuits or wrongful death claims on behalf of those who have been hurt on the job or lost a loved one to a work-related accident.
Contact us today at (800) LAW-2000 or submit our online form to arrange a free initial consultation in which we can review the facts of your case and walk you through the process of seeking compensation through a third-party liability claim.
Understanding Third-Party Liability Lawsuits
Under New Jersey workers’ compensation law, employers cannot be sued for work injuries. However, the law does not bar workers from filing suit against non-employers who may have played a role in causing an accident at work. This is referred to as a third-party lawsuit or as a third-party liability claim since the worker injured on the job sues some person or entity besides the employer.
There are lots of situations where third-party liability might exist and lead to a lawsuit based on an injury that occurs on the job. For example:
- Car accidents – A worker might be injured in the car when he is running an errand for his boss. While this could give rise to a workers’ compensation claim since the worker was performing a work duty, the worker could also file a personal injury claim against the driver of the vehicle that caused the car wreck.
- Faulty equipment – A worker could be hurt as a result of faulty equipment or faulty machinery on the work site. In this situation, the worker could make a workers’ comp claim. The worker could also file a third-party lawsuit against the manufacturer of the equipment or the machine.
- Defective products – A worker could get hurt because of a defective product. For example, a worker using an electronic device at work might be injured or killed if the device shorts out and burns him. Since the burn incident happened at work, a workers’ compensation claim could be filed. However, the manufacturer of the defective product could be sued after the unfortunate event.
- Subcontractor – A worker could get hurt because of the actions of a subcontractor. While workers cannot sue their employers, they can sue subcontractors or others at the job site that creates a dangerous environment.
- Dangerous designs – A worker could be injured because of the actions of a project manager, architect or other non-employer third-party. Sometimes in building projects, for example, an engineer or an architect will make mistakes in the design or in the supervision of the project. If the worker is hurt by these mistakes, like if a construction beam collapses due to the project manager measuring wrongly or the architect creating an unworkable and dangerous design, then the worker could sue the non-employer.
- Property hazards – A worker could be injured on someone’s property when he is performing work. The injured worker could file a personal injury lawsuit against the property owner or the landlord if some hazard on the property contributed to causing the accident.
In these and other scenarios, the worker is taking legal action against a third-party non-employer for an accident or incident that just happened to occur on the job. The third-party lawsuit is entirely separate from the workers’ compensation claim. Both can proceed at the same time.
However, if a worker succeeds in making a third-party claim and recovers monetary damages, then he or she may need to reimburse the employer for some of the workers’ compensation benefits received.
Why Is Third-Party Liability Important?
Because the damages in a personal injury lawsuit may exceed the funds available through workers’ compensation, third-party liability is very important.
Money paid out through workers’ compensation is determined by statute. In other words, the law says how much someone can receive when he suffers a given type of injury, and the law establishes the same general guidelines and rules for every work injury case. The law also imposes significant limitations on worker benefits at the same time as it bestows benefits on workers to protect them. For example:
- Medical costs – Workers’ comp provides full payment of medical bills, but you have to go to a doctor selected by your employer. When you file a personal injury lawsuit against a third party, you can be awarded damages for medical costs and you can see any doctor you want.
- Lost income – Workers’ compensation allows for recovery of only up to 70 percent of average weekly wages for the disabled employee who cannot work. The recovery is also subject to state maximum caps, which change annually. However, when you file a personal injury lawsuit, you can receive a damage award or negotiate a settlement that covers all of your lost income, even if you made a lot of money.
- Pain and suffering – Workers’ compensation does not allow for pain and suffering damages or provide compensation for emotional distress. You can be compensated for these costs in a third-party injury claim when you negotiate a settlement or when the jury decides your damages award.
- Wrongful death damages – The damages from a third-party lawsuit are much broader as family members are compensated for loss of companionship and for a full lifetime of financial support that would have been provided if the deceased had not been killed. With workers’ compensation, caps and time limits apply to death benefits, and there is no recovery for emotional losses.
- Punitive damages – These damages are not available under workers’ compensation laws. In some cases, these damages may be awarded in third-party lawsuits if there was egregious conduct involved in causing the injury.
Making a Third-Party Liability Claim vs. Workers’ Compensation Benefits
While it is clear that there may be larger monetary damages awarded in a third-party lawsuit arising from a work injury than in a workers’ compensation claim, there are a few benefits to workers’ compensation over third-party claims.
For example, with a third-party liability claim, you must prove that the other party was negligent or breached some legal duty in order to be compensated. With a workers’ compensation claim, on the other hand, you do not have to prove negligence. In fact, you can sometimes recover workers’ compensation benefits even if you were careless, and the employer was very careful. This is why workers’ compensation is called a strict liability system.
Obtaining compensation through a third-party liability claim can also be a more time-consuming and complex process. Ideally, with workers’ compensation, you can simply provide notice of your injury and medical problems to your employer, get your claim approved and begin to receive benefits.
With a third-party liability claim, however, you need to file a personal injury claim, prepare for court and go to trial, or you need to negotiate a settlement with an insurance company that is trying to pay you as little as possible. Evidence has to be presented in a certain way, and court rules must be followed.
Get Legal Help for a New Jersey Third-Party Liability Claim
At Davis, Saperstein & Salomon, P.C., our experienced New Jersey work injury attorneys can evaluate your case and determine if there is any argument to be made for third-party liability. We can also assist with both workers’ compensation claims and third-party liability lawsuits.
Call us toll-free at (800) LAW-2000 or use our online form to set up a free initial consultation. There is never a fee for our legal services unless we win your case.
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