Many people know that the workers' compensation system applies when a person is injured on the job. The system tries to balance interests, providing employees with assurance of coverage regardless of fault but limiting the type of damages available and assuring employers that they will not face a negligence case with the potentially sky-high damages. The system even applies in the case of death resulting from a covered accident. What some people do not realize, is that there are exceptions to the exclusivity of the workers' comp system and one is when a third party was at fault.
Companies that are commonly in the third-party role, such as those in the construction field where having many companies on one site is common and accidents are a recurring problem, are used to navigating these waters. Injured workers and the families of the deceased need to have experienced legal counsel in their corner to ensure their rights are protected when third-party liability issues apply.
On Friday morning, as documented by WMBB, deputies with the Gulf County Sheriff's Office received a call reporting that a fork lift operator had become entangled in power lines at Raffield Fisheries, located at 1624 Grouper Avenue in Highland View. The caller informed the Office that the fork lift driver had been shocked by electricity and rendered unresponsive. When they arrived on scene, the response team found the 59 year old worker unresponsive inside the construction equipment. He was taken to Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf at Port St. Joe where medical personnel declared him dead. The Sheriff's Office is still investigating and an autopsy is planned.
Workers' compensation provides a range of specified benefits in the case of an on-the-job injury. The amount is carefully spelled out by law and, as the Division of Worker's Compensation explains, typically includes coverage for necessary medical treatment and payments related to lost wages. The amount and duration of compensation for lost wages depends on the degree of disability. When death occurs within one year of a work accident or after fewer than five years of continuous disability, death benefits apply. These include funeral expenses, dependents' compensation as spelled out by law, and educational benefits for a surviving spouse.
Pain and suffering compensation are one of the items absent from the coverage. Although often part of a negligence award, these damages are sacrificed as part of the trade-off for the certainty (i.e. you don't need to prove negligence or much beyond simply that the injury occurred at work) of workers' comp.
Injured workers are typically barred from suing their employer for damages relating to an on-the-job injury. However, workers may be able to sue a third party whose negligence or wrongful acts contributed to the injury. A few examples:
Why is a third-party claim important? A worker may be able to file a traditional civil claim against the third-party. This means a wider range of damages may be available. For example, while not available in a workers' comp claim, a third-party might be liable for pain and suffering in an injury case or loss of companionship in a wrongful death matters.
We do not know where fault lies in the recent fork lift accident. However, we do know that there is often uncertainty after any accident. It may take time and effort to figure out who is to blame and it requires someone willing to do that work. If you were hurt on the job and believe a third-party may have been at-fault, call our firm. We are here to do the work, conduct the necessary investigation, and protect your legal rights.
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