I was hurt on the job, and I’m getting workers’ compensation. Can I file an injury claim or lawsuit?

April 5, 2017

This week a client in Spokane Valley asked us about an injury they sustained while on the job. They had been collecting workers’ comp for medical expenses which would cover their surgery, but the accident occurred due to someone’s negligence and left them with a permanent injury. In cases like this it is best to contact us for a free consultation. The consultation is completely confidential.

The general rule in the State of Washington is that if you’re injured in the course and scope of your employment by an anticipated and foreseeable risk of that employment, workers’ compensation benefits are your sole and exclusive remedy. Fault isn’t an issue like in a civil personal injury case. If you’re a carpenter, and you cut your fingers off through your own fault while carelessly using a power saw, you’re still covered under Washington workers’ compensation laws. The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) administers over workers’ compensation claims.

Third party liability cases
Sometimes people are injured at work through the fault of somebody who wasn’t their employer or co-employee. For example, a delivery truck driver from ABC Flowers might be rear-ended by a cement truck owned by XYZ Concrete while waiting for a red light. An electrician employed by Able Electric might get knocked off of a step ladder by a plumber from Zebra Plumbing. These accidents are known as third party liability cases, and they’re an exception to the workers’ compensation sole and exclusive remedy rule.

How third party cases proceed
In a third party liability case, a lawsuit is filed against the allegedly negligent party like in any other personal injury case. If the case doesn’t settle over the course of litigation, a judge will render a verdict in a bench trial, or a jury will render a verdict in a jury trial. If damages are awarded, they might consist of:

  • Past and future medical bills
  • Past and future lost earnings
  • Any permanent disfigurement
  • Any permanent disability
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of a normal life
  • Loss of consortium
  • Funeral and burial expenses in the event of a wrongful death

Washington allows the third party lawsuit to proceed at the same time that the injured employee is receiving workers’ compensation benefits.

The workers’ compensation lien
The law doesn’t allow two recoveries for a single injury though. L&I or a self-insured company maintain a lien over any sums derived by settlement or verdict in a third party case. That lien operates to protect any sums that they’ve paid out on workers’ compensation benefits for you. The amount that they receive is payable either pursuant to a formula or compromise of the lien. The influence of this lien on a third party case should be weighed when contemplating a settlement offer by a third party. Third party lawsuits involve complex litigation, and how they affect a workers’ compensation claims is complicated, but a person might come out much farther ahead on a third party case in a court of law. That’s because certain non-economic damages like pain and suffering are available in civil courts that aren’t available in a workers’ compensation case. If you don’t file a third party case, L&I might do it for you, but don’t count on it protecting anything but its own interests. You must protect yourself.

Contact a Spokane Personal Injury Lawyer Today

While we are not workers’ compensation attorneys we are aware of permanent partial disability (PPD) and permanent disabilities. We are also aware of when an injury claim should be sought instead of a workers comp claim.

If you have been injured on the job as a contractor or employee and believe you may have a personal injury claim, contact us today for a free and confidential consultation.

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