When Can a Third Party be Responsible for Construction Accidents?

April 10, 2017
When Can a Third Party be Responsible for Construction Accidents?

Let's assume that you're a construction worker who works for Company X and you are busily working away on a job site. You're standing in the middle of a floor on the second story of the structure, which was installed by Company Y, when suddenly it gives way and you fall into the first story, sustaining catastrophic injuries. You promptly file a workers' compensation claim against your employer, Company X, which will cover your medical expenses and reimburse you a portion of your wages. Because you do not work for Company Y, you cannot pursue a workers' compensation claim against them. Is there any way to recover damages from Company Y in addition to your workers' compensation damages?

The answer is yes. These types of actions are called third party claims because they are normally brought simultaneously with workers' compensation claims against someone other than your employers.

Let's see how this works.

Workers' Compensation Claims

Workers' compensation1 is a no-fault insurance program that is mandatory for most employers in the United States, which provides a predetermined level of compensation to workers who are injured on the job. Before the workers' compensation system came into being, workers who were injured on the job had to sue their employers for their damages. There were several disadvantages to this scheme; it required workers to hire attorneys, prove that their employers were at fault for their injuries, and wait a long time for financial compensation if it came at all. The workers' compensation system, by contrast, is a no-fault system in which employees give up their right to sue their employers for workplace injuries in exchange for a clearly defined set of benefits. The advantages of this system are that it keeps these types of claims out of the courts, removes determinations of fault by the employer or employee, and lessens the adversarial relationship between employers and employees.

There are several stipulations involved with the workers' compensation system, however. First, workers are only allowed to make claims against their employers and not any other parties who may have had a role in their injury. Second, workers' compensation benefits are limited to the categories of damages pre-determined by state statute, which may or may not entirely compensate the injured worker for all of his or her losses. For example, Florida's workers' compensation system2provides coverage only for the following categories of benefits:

Medical Benefits: Employers in Florida are responsible for providing medical treatment through an insurance carrier for all medical procedures that are medically necessary, including doctor's visits, hospitalization, physical therapy, medical tests, prescription drugs, prostheses, and mileage reimbursement for travel to and from authorized doctors and pharmacies.

Lost wages: Temporary disability benefits apply when an authorized doctor determines that the employee cannot return to work during the period of his or her convalescence (limited to 104 weeks), and amount to 66 2/3% of his or her regular wages at the time of injury. Permanent disability benefits apply only in cases where the worker's injuries are so severe that he or she is unable to ever return to work.

Death benefits: If a worker dies within one year of the date of the accident or five years of continuous disability, he or she is entitled to up to $7,500 in funeral expenses, compensation to dependents, and educational benefits to the worker's surviving spouse.

Thus, workers' compensation in Florida covers only three categories of damages; it does not cover any additional categories of damages that would be available in a traditional negligence action, such as pain and suffering, lost future wages, emotional distress, and loss of consortium. 

These types of damages are recoverable only through a third party negligence claim.

Third Party Claims

If a worker's injuries were received only as a result of his employment relationship with his employer, then benefits are limited to those defined by his state's workers' compensation statute. However, if the worker's injuries were the result of a third party's negligence or gross misconduct, the worker may be able to maintain a traditional negligence claim against the third party in addition to the workers' compensation claim. Third party actions in construction injury lawsuits can be based upon any traditional theory of negligence, such as:

Personal injury: Our example of the worker falling through the floor above would be an example of a personal injury claim. The worker would have to show that Company Y owed him a duty of care, that they failed to provide the basic elements to ensure his safety, and that his injuries were the direct result of Company Y's breach of this duty.

Products liability: If the construction injury was caused not by negligence, but by a defective product, the worker may be able to bring a products liability claim against the manufacturer, distributor, or seller of the product in question.

Wrongful death: If a worker is killed on a construction site because of the negligence of a third party, his representatives may be able to bring a wrongful death claim against the party.

All of these third-party negligence actions can be brought simultaneously with the injured employee's workers' compensation claim. However, unlike workers' compensation claims, which are no-fault, the worker bringing a third-party negligence claim will be required to prove fault using traditional methods, and the defendant will have all possible defenses available to them. Whenever an employee receives workers' compensation benefits and a judgment from a third-party claim, there is always an issue of double recovery--that is, there is a risk of the employee receiving more compensation than he is entitled to because he is recovering both from his employer's workers' compensation insurance and from the third party judgment. In order to prevent this, most states (including Florida), allow the employer's workers' compensation insurance company to place a lien on third party judgments3 to recoup any benefits they have already paid to the injured worker.

Contact a New Port Richey Construction Accident Attorney

If you have been injured on a construction site and believe you may have a negligence claim against a third party, please contact the attorneys at the Dolman Law Group for a free consultation by calling 727-853-6275 or send us an email through our online contact form.

Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 5435 Main Street New Port Richey, FL 34652 (727) 477-9660
https://www.dolmanlaw.com/new-port-richey-construction-accident-attorneys/ https://www.dolmanlaw.com/new-port-richey-workers-compensation-lawyer/

1 https://money.howstuffworks.com/workers-compensation.htm

2 https://www.myfloridacfo.com/division/wc/

3 https://www.leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0400-0499/0440/Sections/0440.39.html

Matthew Dolman

Clearwater Personal Injury and Insurance Attorney

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 lawsuits. Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess or $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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