Before workers’ compensation laws were enacted, a worker who was injured on the job was in a tough spot if they didn’t have insurance. They might file a personal injury lawsuit against their employer, but to be successful, they would have to prove that their employer’s negligence caused their injury. Even if they could prove this, the whole process could take months or even years.
New York’s workers’ compensation system seeks to streamline this process. Employers must carry insurance to cover their employees. If an employee is injured on the job, they apply for workers’ compensation benefits. They do not have to show that the employer was negligent. They simply have to show that the injury happened in the course of their employment. When all goes well, the insurer provides the benefits to pay for the employee’s medical care and help them with the loss of income while they are unable to return to work.
In exchange for taking these benefits, the employee gives up the right to file suit against their employer over the same injury. Even if the worker later finds out their employer’s negligence contributed to their injury, they are barred from filing a lawsuit against the employer if it involves the same injury.
This can turn out to be a problem for workers who are badly injured on the job and find their workers’ compensation benefits are insufficient to compensate them for everything they’ve lost as a result of their accident.
Third parties in construction accidents
A workers’ compensation benefit recipient is barred from filing suit against their employer in a case involving the same injury, but they are not barred from filing suit against someone else who was partially responsible for their injury. The idea behind this is known as third party liability, and it is important in cases involving construction sites where multiple employers are at work.
For instance, imagine a carpenter who works for employer A is badly injured at a construction site when a roofer who works for employer B accidentally drops a heavy load of roofing tiles on him. The carpenter files for workers’ compensation through his employer. He is barred from filing a lawsuit against employer A, but he can still file a lawsuit against employer B.
Injured workers and their families should speak with an experienced lawyer to examine all their options for maximizing their benefits and compensation.