Third-Party Liability

When a worker is injured on the job, he or she can bring a workers’ compensation claim. Workers’ compensation benefits are awarded without the need to prove fault on the employer’s part. However, in some cases, the injured worker can also bring a third-party liability claim. “Third-party liability” refers to bodily injury caused to a person because of a negligent or reckless third party’s actions or omissions.

Third-party liability may arise when an individual or entity that is separate form the employer causes the workplace accident. Usually, it is not available against an employee’s supervisor or coworker. Instead, third-party liability may arise out of other common situations, such as manufacturing or design defects, drivers who cause car accidents that injure a worker on the job, and owners of businesses that a worker visits as part of a job.

For example, if a worker is on the road for work, and a drunk truck driver crashes into him, the worker can recover workers’ compensation benefits, but he can also sue the truck driver and the trucking company. Most workers’ compensation payments are minimal, and a worker may not be able to recover enough compensation to fully cover his or her medical expenses and lost income through workers’ compensation alone. Moreover, workers’ compensation doesn’t cover pain and suffering, mental anguish, or punitive damages. In a third-party liability claim, the worker would be able to ask the court for noneconomic damages and punitive damages.

Similarly, if a chair breaks at work because of a defective leg, and you suffer serious hip injuries, you may be able to bring a third-party claim against the product manufacturer. Or if you fall on a bathroom floor that a client’s janitorial service left wet without any warning signs and get hurt, you may be able to bring a third-party liability claim against the cleaning company.

With third-party liability claims, it is necessary to prove the third party’s negligence and fault, or other wrongful acts or omissions. To prove the third party’s negligence, the plaintiff will need to prove duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages. However, if the plaintiff makes the claim against a product manufacturer, it may be possible to raise a strict liability claim in which the product manufacturer can be held liable just by proving that there was a defect and that it caused the plaintiff’s harm.

When an injured employee claims that a third party negligently caused his or her injury, the company’s insurance carrier may have a subrogation interest in the claim and can enforce the third party’s liability in the name of the injured employee. Each state has its own rules regarding subrogation and an employer’s or carrier’s right to recover the benefits that were paid to the employee.

The subrogation interest that can be recovered is usually limited to the amount of workers’ compensation benefits that were paid to the employee. In most cases, if the recovery is for an amount greater than the subrogation interest, the insurance carrier can get reimbursed and pay the remainder to the injured employee.