Typically when a Chicago worker is injured on the job, they will file a workers’ compensation claim and collect compensation for their injuries in this way. However, there are many times when workers are injured and the fault rests neither with them, their employer, or a co-worker, but rather with a third-party. Under these circumstances, the worker has the option of seeking additional compensation either by filing a claim against the insurance policy of the third party or personal injury lawsuit in civil court.
Why Third Party Negligence?
In Illinois, workers legally have the right to bring up a third party claim if they are injured at work if the negligence lies with an outside party. This could be any hypothetical third party, such as reckless motorist who collides with a delivery truck, injuring the driver, or a product manufacturer who installed faulty equipment. Although a worker would be able to file a workers’ compensation claim if they were injured while working in these circumstances, a third party claim allows the worker to recover damages not covered by benefits.
By filing a third party claim against the insurance company of the third party or a lawsuit in civil court, the worker stands the chance of collecting an award to pay not just for medical bills and lost wages, but also for pain and suffering, disability, disfigurement, and loss of normal life. In addition, the employer may be able to file a claim against the third party to recover funds needed to pay workers’ compensation benefits to the injured worker that would otherwise have been unnecessary.
Common Types of Accidents Potentially Involving Third-Party Liability
Although it is theoretically possible for a third-party to be liable in almost any type of workplace injury, there are certain fields of work or environments that are more likely to involve third party claims. A majority of work-related accidents that involve third parties usually are in the following categories:
- Motor Vehicle Accidents – All transportation industry employees or workers who drive as part of their job duties are at risk of being in an auto collision. If the worker is involved in a crash while performing job duties and the fault of the accident lies with another driver, the injured worker can not only collect workers’ compensation, but may also file a claim to recover damages from the at-fault driver in the accident.
- Accidents at Construction Sites – Generally speaking, construction sites are amongst the most accident prone work environments any worker can be in simply because of the nature of the work and the many opportunities for injury. There is also a high probability of third party liability with injuries that take place on construction sites because often times several different companies, contractors, or subcontractors may be in charge of various parts of the construction. In effect, this means several different workers employed under different employers are working in the same area simultaneously. If a worker is injured by someone other than the employer or someone working for their employer, there is a potential to file a third-party claim against the person who caused the accident.
- Slip and Fall Accidents – An electrician who is working on the electrical system at an apartment complex and falls because of poorly maintained sidewalks could file a claim against the owner of the complex.
Benefits a Worker Could Receive in a Third Party Claim
The advantage of filing a third party lawsuit is that the worker can collect additional damages that are not available with workers’ compensation. In a workers’ compensation claim, the injured worker is restricted to receiving benefits for medical expenses and income losses. Third party claims, however, have both economic and noneconomic damages that an injured worker can collect. In a third party lawsuit a worker could claim:
- Economic Damages – These types of damages would be similar to workers’ compensation benefits in that they are meant to compensate the worker for financial burdens created due to the injury. This includes any medical expenses and income losses related to the injury. It should be noted, however, that if the worker is awarded money for medical expenses, the workers’ compensation health care provider would have lien on the funds since they paid for the bills.
- Noneconomic Damages – In a third-party claim, an injured worker can also claim damages for noneconomic losses. Typically this includes items like pain and suffering, emotional distress, or loss of consortium. Because these damages are abstract in nature, they are usually assigned a monetary value based on the total economic damages, depending on the severity of injuries.
Proving Third Party Negligence & Liability
In Illinois, workers’ compensation works on a no-fault system and no proof of negligence is necessary to receive benefits. Regardless of negligence, the employer will need to pay workers’ compensation benefits to the injured worker for the medical expenses and lost income. When a third party claim is brought up, however, the burden of providing proof falls on the worker and winning a settlement award rests on the ability to prove the third party was, indeed, negligent and that the injury was caused by said negligence.
In a third party case this would be done by showing:
- The third party had a duty to the injured worker (i.e. were liable for their safety in some way);
- There was a breach in duty by the third party;
- The worker was injured because of the breach in duty; and
- The injuries resulted in damages or loss to the worker (in the form of medical expenses, income loss, and pain and suffering).
Because third party claims add an additional layer of complexity to receiving compensation for work injuries, it is advisable to seek the aid of an attorney. A third party claim may take much longer to settle than a workers’ compensation claim, which may have relatively quick results and thus the injured worker would collect benefits almost immediately. Many third party claims are settled out of court, but there is a chance the case would go to trial if the parties could not come to an agreement.