The primary purpose of the Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation system is to make sure that workers get the medical care they need and don’t go broke after they have been injured on the job. With that in mind, employers are required to carry insurance that can pay benefits for their injured employees.
The process of applying for and receiving benefits is often frustrating and difficult, but compared to filing a personal injury lawsuit, workers’ compensation is a streamlined system. Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system, and it is an exclusive remedy.
To collect workers’ compensation benefits, an injured worker doesn’t have to allege that the employer did anything wrong, or that the workplace was unsafe; the worker must simply show that the injury happened in the course of employment. The trade-off for this relative simplicity is that, once an injured worker has collected workers’ compensation benefits, they cannot file a personal injury lawsuit against their employer based on the same accident or injury.
It’s important to note that this rule does not prevent an injured worker from collecting workers’ compensation benefits and also filing a lawsuit against a third party, if a third party caused the injury through negligence or wrongful acts.
One scenario in which this situation can arise is in an accident at a large construction site, where multiple employers and many employees are working in close proximity to each other. Imagine a construction site where ABC Construction is contracted to put up sheet rock and XYZ Concrete is installing a driveway. Frank, an employee of ABC Construction, is badly injured when an XYZ Concrete truck backs into a large pallet of sheet rock, causing it to tumble over on top of his legs. Frank requires multiple surgeries and extensive rehabilitation before he can walk again, let alone return to work.
In this case, Frank could make a claim for workers’ compensation benefits from his employer, ABC Construction. He doesn’t have to allege that ABC did anything wrong. However, the benefits he receives may not be enough to completely cover the losses he and his family have faced and will continue to face in the years ahead. Because he has collected workers’ compensation benefits, Frank may not file suit against ABC Construction over his accident. However, he can file suit against XYZ Concrete. If he can show that his accident was caused by XYZ’s negligence, he may be able to recover compensation for his damages, including medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and more.
The exact way this type of third-party lawsuit works can be very different from case to case, but in some scenarios a third-party lawsuit can be the best way to make sure that the injured recover all the compensation they need. It can also be an important way to hold negligent parties accountable.