THE IMPORTANCE OF IDENTIFYING RESPONSIBLE THIRD PARTIES IN WORK PLACE ACCIDENTS
Some entity or person other than a worker’s employer is sometimes the cause of a worker’s “on-the-job” injury. The existence of such a third-party wrong-doer, or “tort-feasor” can dramatically increase the value and recovery of a worker for his or her work-place injuries. Instead of being limited to disability awards representing a fraction of the value of actual lost wages, (see “Workers’ Claims Under the Longshore Act and Related Law” elsewhere on this website), an injured worker may recover full value for his or her wage loss. Such an injured worker may also recover “pain and suffering” or general damages, or even punitive damages, when neither type of recovery is available in a worker’s compensation case. Such recoveries that “make whole” an injured person are a hallmark of the law of negligence in California, or “tort law.”
Retaining an attorney who is able to evaluate competently and completely both a worker’s compensation case and a “third-party case” is important. Third party cases can arise in multiple settings. Sometimes the identity and existence of a third party is relatively clear. One example is a third-party driver of a motor vehicle who hits an employee during the course and scope of the employee’s employment. Another example is the manufacturer of a defective product that is used by an employee during his employment and which causes injury. Yet another example is a medical doctor who commits medical malpractice on an injured worker, exacerbating his original. injury or causing new injuries.
More subtle examples can also be found. Not infrequently a worker will be injured on the job when he or she is actually injured as the result of a dangerous premises. In such instances, the owner, lessor, or operator of the premises may be a “third party tort-feasor” who, when not the worker’s. employer, is liable for a full measure of damages including full wage recovery and pain and suffering damages.
In construction site or heavy industry accidents, including ship unloading and harbor operations, a third party wrongdoer other than an employer may have caused a worker’s accident. This can occur where there are multiple contractors and subcontractors working at a construction or industrial site, and one or more of them cause or contribute to the injury of an employee of another employer. Such injuries can occur by falling scaffolds, malfunctioning elevators, cherry-pickers, cranes, loaders, or other equipment, or for any number of other reasons. Owners or construction sites, project managers, and general contractors can be liable for injuries to employees of subcontractors where causing the injury or exercising sufficient control over the construction site. Subcontractors might also be liable for injuries to the employees of other entities, including owners, project managers, general contractors, and subcontractors.
A knowledgeable attorney, preferably combining knowledge of worker’s compensation laws and personal injury, should be consulted to insure full recovery to an injured workers. The Law Offices of Matthew Witteman provides such consultation.