Workers’ Compensation Law and Third Party Liability
It is fairly common knowledge that if you get hurt on the job your employer has to provide Workers’ Compensation benefits while you recover from your injuries. Those benefits include a percentage of your average weekly wages and medical treatment for any work related injuries. Irrespective of who was at fault, your employer must provide these benefits by law. What many people may not know is that, in return, your employer enjoys complete immunity from any lawsuits arising out of work related accidents. An employee receiving workers’ compensation is barred from suing his employer (and fellow employees) for injuries sustained on the job. Immunity extends only to the employer, however, employees injured by third parties have the right to seek damages for injuries caused by another’s negligence.
For example, construction projects typically involve a variety of trades working on the same site. If an employee from a plumbing sub-contractor was injured because an electrical sub-contractor allowed a dangerous condition to exist, the injured worker has the right to sue the electrical sub-contractor for third party negligence. Another potential defendant in this scenario might include the general contractor for failing to have an appropriate safety procedure at the site that would have eliminated the dangerous condition. These liability claims against other contractors are known as “third-party claims"
If a worker is injured by defective tools he would have the right to bring product liability claims against the manufacturer and or distributer of the tools. Over the years, Sugarman has litigated hundreds of third party claims involving defective tools, machinery and other products used on a jobsite.
In Massachusetts, workers’ compensation is regulated by MGL c.152 and the statute provides protections for both the injured worker and the employer in the context of a third party liability case. Suppose an injured worker brings a third party claim for injuries received on the job and a jury awards damages or the case settles short of trial. The statute imposes a lien on the case and requires the worker to reimburse the employer (or his insurer) for all workers’ compensation benefits paid as a result of his injuries, less a proportionate share of attorney fees and expenses. The worker then receives the excess amount of the recovery. At Sugarman, we always undertake to negotiate a compromise of the statutory lien so that the injured worker receives the maximum amount of recovery. In every third party liability case, the statute requires approval of the settlement by the court or the Industrial Accident Board. Settlement approval ensures that the settlement is in the best interests of the worker and that it is fair and reasonable. In addition, third party claim settlement approval makes sure that benefits will continue to the extent allowed by law if the worker is still receiving benefits at the time of the settlement.
If you have suffered an injury on the job,you would be well-served to talk to any experienced attorney to investigate and give you straight answers about whether you may have a third party claim.
For more information or assistance with workers’ compensation laws or third party claims call Sugarman and Sugaraman at 617-542-1000 or email [email protected].