Workers’ compensation statutes are designed to require employers to compensate employees who are injured while working in the line and scope of their employment, regardless of whether the employer is at fault. Many employees are surprised to learn, however, that workers’ compensation benefits are not intended to make the employee whole.
Although workers’ compensation statutes vary among the states, they are basically similar with respect to benefits available to injured employees. Medical benefits are provided for life, although the insurer controls in large part where and under what circumstances the medical care is provided. While the employee is out of work due to their injury, they are only paid 2/3 of their normal wages. Compensation for permanent injuries are capped at 300 weeks unless the employee is totally and permanently disabled. Workers’ compensation statutes do not provide benefits for past or future pain and suffering, past or future mental or emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and punitive damages are not available.
Therefore, given the shortcomings of workers’ compensation benefits, it is extremely important for injured workers, with the assistance of an attorney, to evaluate work-related claims to determine if a third-party (someone other than the employer) may be liable to the employee. For example, a third party claim may be available against the designer, manufacturer, seller and/or assembler of a defective machine or equipment that injured or killed the employee. Or a claim may be available against a third party whose negligence caused the employee’s injury or death. In these situations, pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, lost income and punitive damages are recoverable.
When employees are injured on the job, they and their lawyers should examine the facts and circumstances to determine if third party claims are viable. Such an analysis could make a huge financial difference in the recovery.