When you’ve been hurt in an accident at work or you’re suffering from a work-related repetitive stress injury or illness, one of your first steps will typically be to notify your employer and file for workers’ compensation benefits. The Pennsylvania workers’ compensation system was initially set up as the “grand bargain,” designed to benefit both workers and employers. As an injured worker, if your work comp claim is approved, you’ll have access to benefits much sooner than if you had to file a personal injury lawsuit and go through the civil process. For employers, there’s a specific calculation for benefits, so there’s no concern that a sympathetic jury will return an astronomical damage award.
You may have heard (perhaps from your employer) that workers’ compensation provides the “exclusive remedy” when you have a work injury. That’s not entirely accurate, though, and here’s why. The workers’ compensation system was established to provide a remedy and benefits when your employer or a co-employee is negligent or careless—it’s never been intended to apply to or replace the negligence of an unrelated third party. Accordingly, if your injuries were caused, in whole or in part, by someone other than your employer or a co-worker, you are not limited by the provisions of the workers’ compensation laws, and can file a personal injury lawsuit to seek damages for any losses. For example, if you were injured in a work-related motor vehicle accident caused by a third party, or if your injuries were due to a dangerous or defective product, tool or piece of equipment, you can file a civil suit for damages against that wrongful party.
There are, of course, advantages and disadvantages to being able to file a civil suit for a work-related injury. You have the potential for a more significant damage award, but the process will typically be much longer, so you won’t see any compensation for some time. However, if your injuries were caused in part by your employer’s negligence and in part by a third party, you can simultaneously file a workers’ compensation claim and a civil suit, so you could have some benefits coming in while your personal injury claim makes its way through the legal process. You cannot, however, recover workers’ compensation benefits and personal injury damages for the same loss—if workers’ compensation pays for medical expenses, you can’t recover for those same medical expenses in a personal injury lawsuit.
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At Barnard, Mezzanotte, Pinnie & Seelaus, we offer experienced and knowledgeable legal counsel to individuals in Pennsylvania. To set up an appointment for a free initial consultation, call us at 610-565-4055 or contact us online