What exactly is a third-party lawsuit?

If you are involved in an accident at work, you can most likely make a claim for workers’ compensation. Employers have a duty to provide compensation for legitimate work accident claims, and to correct any lapses in safety that may have contributed to the accident.

But what if the accident wasn’t actually your employer’s fault?

The limitations of workers’ compensation

First of all, it should be noted that workers’ compensation is generally available regardless of who or what caused your accident. It is designed to cover the medical bills and time off injured workers may need to recover from any injuries suffered on the job.

However, workers’ comp is limited. It only provides financial support for your medically necessary treatments, medications, rehabilitation efforts and time off. It does not provide compensation for your non-economic damages like pain and suffering, emotional trauma or mental anguish.

This is where a third-party lawsuit may come in.

Who is the third party?

If someone other than your employer had a hand in causing your workplace accident, then you may have a third-party claim. This person or entity is the “third” party besides you and your employer. The defendant in a third-party claim could be:

  • An individual person whose careless or negligent actions caused the accident
  • A company, general contractor, property owner or other business entity whose oversight contributed to the accident
  • A manufacturer whose poorly designed or defective products caused your injuries

A third-party lawsuit is a civil claim, and therefore handled like a general personal injury claim. Like a personal injury claim, you will need to prove that the third party’s actions or oversight was responsible for the accident. You will also need to provide documentation of the extent of your injuries and prove that they were a direct result of the third party’s negligence.

Can you claim both workers’ comp and file a third-party lawsuit?

The short answer is yes. However, if you proceed with a third-party lawsuit, your employer (or its insurance company) may also seek to join it by a process known as “intervention.” Under California law, your employer has the right to intervene in your third-party lawsuit to recoup some of its own costs related to the accident.

This doesn’t mean that you cannot or will not recover additional compensation. However, without the careful guidance of a skilled attorney, you could end up with far less than you deserve.