Injured Construction Worker - How Workers' Compensation can impact your liability claim.
Construction sites are dangerous places to work. Work injuries are often career ending. Workers' Compensation is never sufficient to cover all the damage. It will be necessary to sue the liable party. But, did you know that what happens in your Comp claim could destroy your lawsuit?
Some issues determined at a Workers' Compensation hearing cannot be re-litigated in State Supreme Court.The importance of having your personal injury attorney involved with the comp claim cannot be overstated. In New York State, the legal doctrine of "collateral estoppel" is applicable to quasi-judicial determinations of administrative agencies, including the Workers' Compensation Board. Significantly, the Workers' Compensation Board has jurisdiction to determine an array of issues that could destroy your State Supreme Court claim. For instance, a determination by the Workers' Compensation Board that the General Contractor or building owner is an "ad hoc" employer would immunize an otherwise liable third-party from liability for substantial damages (often Millions of Dollars). In that instance, the injured worker would only recover from workers' compensation. There are literately Millions of Dollars at stake for the injured worker.
The best way to protect your State Supreme Court claim.Hire one lawyer qualified to handle both claims. The importance of this is demonstrated in the recent Appellate Division, Fourth Department case of Joseph King, III, v. Malone Home Builders, Inc., March 25, 2016 (litigated by this writer). In brief, the General Contractor (who is subject to absolute liability in State Court by operation of Labor Law Section 240(1)) appeared in the Workers' Compensation hearing and argued that it was my client's "ad-hoc" employer (perhaps an attempt to manufacture immunity from liability in the State Supreme Court Matter). Because my client had retained counsel versed in both Workers' Compensation law and construction site accident litigation, the matter was rigorously contested before the Workers' Compensation Board. We won the contest. We then brought a "scaffold law" claim in NYS Supreme Court to recover substantial damages not covered by comp. Defense counsel re-hashed the "ad-hoc" employee argument (i.e., argued defendant should get a second bite at the apple of immunity). On Summary Judgment I argued that the legal doctrine of collateral estoppel precluded defendant from raising the "ad-hoc" immunity defense. Defense counsel argued that collateral estoppel did not apply under the circumstances. The trial Court agreed with defense counsel. The ruling placed my client's entire damages claim in jeopardy of being tossed out. I was certain my interpretation of the law on this issue was correct and I filed an appeal. Both sides argued fiercely. The Appellate Court unanimously agreed with my position and reversed the lower court ruling. This solidified the General Contractor's absolute liability for all of my client's damages. This was an exceptional result for my client. It came about due to the fact my client had an attorney who was experienced in litigating both complex Workers' Compensation matters and high stakes construction site accident claims. In this case it was also important to have an attorney with strong skills at the appellate level.