As a general rule, a worker who is injured on the job or the heirs of a worker who is killed at work cannot bring a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit against the employer. This agreement lies at the heart of the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act. In exchange for providing workers’ compensation benefits for employees, employers are shielded from being sued by them.
However, if someone other than your employer caused the injury, it is a different matter. That party could be sued in a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. These are called “third-party claims.” These actions can result in additional compensation. However, they do require establishing the other party’s fault.
When Can You Pursue a Third-Party Claim?
A third-party injury claim is, in many ways, the same as any personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. You have to establish the other party’s fault. These claims may arise in situations that involve:
- Auto accidents – If a worker is injured by a careless or reckless driver while carrying out his or her work duties, the worker could bring a car accident claim against the driver.
- Defective products – If a worker is injured by a defective piece of equipment or other product that he or she used while on the job, the worker could bring a product liability claim against the manufacturer, distributor and seller. Liability may be based on the defect causing the injury or the injury resulting from an inadequate warning.
- Non-employer site owners, supervisors or managers – Parties other than your employer who have a duty to make sure a work site is safe may be held liable if they fail to live up to that duty, and a worker suffers an injury as a result. In some cases, a claim may arise from workers being exposed to environmentally contaminated property.
- Outside vendors (contractors or subcontractors) – If an employer hires an outside vendor to provide security, maintenance, cleaning, cooking or any other services, that vendor can be sued if its negligence causes injury to a worker.
Why Would You Pursue a Third-Party Claim?
South Carolina workers’ compensation benefits are not designed to make an injured worker or the worker’s heirs “whole” after a serious or fatal on-the-job injury. For example, a worker’s pain, suffering and emotional distress are not covered under workers’ compensation, and if f a worker is killed, workers’ compensation benefits do not compensate family members for the loss of companionship and support.
It is important to work with a lawyer who has experience with these matters to determine whether it is possible (or advisable) to pursue recovery from a third party in your case.