Many of the cases handled by the White Plains personal injury attorneys at Worby Vecchio Edelman are based upon accidents that occur at work. New York has a well-established Worker’s Compensation system, which imposes specific restrictions on victims of workplace accidents. We devote this month’s column to this type of accident, how insurance coverage works, and whether or not an injured worker can bring a lawsuit to obtain compensation for his or her injuries.
Workplace Accidents and Worker's Compensation
The first thing to know is that with very limited exceptions, one cannot sue an employer for personal injuries sustained in a workplace accident. For example, if you fall over a dangerous condition in the office, you cannot sue your employer for its negligence in causing your injuries, even if there is little dispute that that dangerous condition was the sole cause of your accident. This rule also applies to accidents caused by the negligence of a co-worker. If, for example, a co-worker were to knock over a display which then falls onto you and causes injury, you would be unable to sue that co-worker.
Instead, the remedy for the payment of your medical bills and at least a part of your lost earnings is achieved through a worker’s compensation claim. Assuming that your employer carries worker’s compensation insurance – which it is required to do in New York – your medical bills will be paid without regard to fault, that is, even if you tripped on your own shoelace. If you are disabled as a result of your injuries, a percentage of your lost wages will also be paid, up to a maximum set by the law; the exact amount depends upon your salary, and the extent of your disability.
Workplace Accidents and Third Party Lawsuits
While a lawsuit cannot be brought against an employer, very often we are able to identify a third party who might be negligent for an accident, and that party can be sued. Consider the case of a worker who falls in a building in which the employer is a lessee, and not the owner. If the cause of that accident is a structural defect in the building (as opposed to a transitory defect, like water spilled by a co-employee) a lawsuit can then be brought against that third party. Under these circumstances, that lawsuit would proceed like any other lawsuit – but assuming that a settlement is reached with the negligent party, special procedures then apply because of the worker’s compensation claim.
First, the worker’s compensation carrier must consent in writing to that settlement; a claimant’s failure to obtain that consent can have dire consequences, namely extinguishment of any further claim for worker’s compensation benefits. Second, the worker’s compensation carrier has a “lien” – a payback right – of what it paid to and on behalf of the claimant for lost wages and for medical benefits. That payback right is a dollar for dollar payback, offset by the percentage of attorney fees and disbursements as to the amount of the total settlement.
The reason that the law permits this offset is because the carrier’s ability to receive any payback of the amount that it paid is completely dependent upon whether the claimant receives any money in a settlement or judgment. If the claimant did not bring that third party lawsuit, the carrier would have received no money back at all; that is the reason why the law requires the carrier to offset the amount it is due by this percentage. (As an aside, a worker’s compensation carrier can bring a lawsuit in the name of the injured party if that injured party does not do so. This is an unusual event, which rarely occurs).
Finally, the worker’s compensation carrier also benefits going forward, by what is known as a credit against future benefits. This means that the carrier is permitted to reduce future payments to the claimant, generally in the same percentage as the lien offset, until the carrier saves (or is credited with) the amount of the claimant’s net recovery.
Contact Our White Plains Accident Attorneys
The New York Worker’s Compensation system is confusing, and navigating one’s way through that system is not an easy task. Call the White Plains accident attorneys at Worby Vecchio Edelman if you or anyone you know has been involved in a workplace accident. We can explain all of your rights, and answer your questions. We’ll let you know whether you can bring a third party lawsuit as a result of a workplace accident, and make sure that you have a full understanding of how the worker’s compensation laws apply to your case. We offer a free, no obligation consultation, and since we work on contingency, you won’t have to pay us anything unless we recover money on your case.