An Arcade, NY man was recently awarded $10 million for back injuries suffered while on-the-job at a North Tonawanda recycling plant. In 2007, at the request of his employer, the man was delivering documents to be shredded at the recycling plant when a forklift driver rounded a corner and pushed a heavy pallet of shredded materials into him, pinning him against a shredder machine. The man suffered a fracture in his back along with other injuries. He has had to undergo two surgical procedures, including an artificial disc replacement. He is now considered disabled and will likely face medical treatment for his pain and injuries the rest of his life.
When this story ran in The Buffalo News, some readers had questions about why the injured worker was entitled to sue for on-the-job injuries, insisting that New York workers’ comp law prevented employees from suing after suffering injuries.
I want to clear up this misconception. While it is true that in the vast majority of circumstances, an employee cannot sue an employer for workplace injuries, an employee may sue a third party for on-the-job injuries. This is called third party liability.
What is third-party liability?
Third party liability comes into play when a third party – not your employer – causes your injury through a negligent act. For example, if you crush your hand in a machine in your workplace because the safety bar didn’t work, you may be entitled to sue the manufacturer of the machine for producing a defective product.
In this case, the injured Arcade man was working – though not on his employers’ premises – when the injury occurred. According to his lawyer, the forklift driver was new to the job and had not been properly trained. Therefore, the man was entitled to bring a personal injury claim against the plant, even though he happened to be working at the time, just as any other citizen could have done.
Can I sue a third party even if I am receiving workers’ compensation?
Yes. Workers’ compensation covers reimbursement for medical expenses and partial loss wages exclusively. It does not compensate you for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, long-term loss of income, wrongful death, or other losses. If have the right to bring a personal injury claim against a third party for your workplace accident, you may be able to obtain these other damages above and beyond the amount you receive for workers’ compensation.
How do I know if I have a third party claim?
You may have a third-party claim if you were injured:
- while working on someone else’s premises
- by a malfunctioning piece of equipment or machinery
- by a non-employee in the workplace
- by the driver of another vehicle while on a work-related trip.
The best way to be sure of whether you have a third party claim for an on-the-job accident is by speaking with an experienced injury and workers’ compensation attorney. Your attorney will review the facts of your accident with you, investigate the the details, and assess whether you have a good case for a third party claim.