Pursuing Third-Party Lawsuit After Filing Workers’ Compensation Claim

In a case from the Supreme Court of Mississippi, an employee who worked at a petroleum refinery factory was seriously injured while on the job.  However, he was not technically a statutory employee, but rather a contractor.

truckIn a typical situation, a contractor would not be able to obtain workers’ compensation benefits, because he is not an employee, which is a requirement to collect worker’s compensation benefits. However, this does not mean that the injured worker would not have any recourse.As our Boston workers’ compensation attorneys can discuss during your initial consultation following a workplace accident, while an independent contractor generally cannot file a workers’ compensation claim, he or she can file a civil personal injury lawsuit against the employer or negligent third party in some cases.  However, whether or not you can file such a personal injury lawsuit will depend on whether there was any negligence by the employer or another employee or if there was a negligent third party.

The reason for this is because, unlike in a typical Boston workers’ compensation case, there is no need to prove negligence. The system was purposely designed as no-fault system. This means that it makes no difference whether or not the employer was at-fault in causing the employee’s injuries, and he or she doesn’t get more money in workers’ compensation if that injury was caused by employer’s negligence. The only thing that matters is if the employee was injured on the job and that employee was actually an employee within the meaning of the statute, and that is partially what is at issue in this case.

In this case, the claimant was injured when an employee of the company opened a valve and hot steam, coke, and water came shooting out of the pipe, and claimant suffered severe burns on most of his body. Coke or petroleum coke is coal-like fuel derived from petroleum products and can be used in place of coal in some applications.

Following his injury, he applied for workers’ compensation benefits, and the company approved his claim.  He then filed a lawsuit against his employer and the employee who he claimed opened the valve.  His employer defended the case saying that workers’ compensation was the exclusive remedy. Summary judgment was granted, and the case was dismissed.  He then appealed, and the court of appeals found that he was not a statutory employee and was not barred from suing the employer.  This also means he was probably not entitled to workers’ compensation, but that claim was already paid.  The reason the employer paid the workers’ compensation benefits in the first place was likely to avoid having to face a personal injury lawsuit.  Employers would much rather have their workers’ compensation insurance company pay for medical expenses, lost wages, and the cost of rehabilitation than face a personal injury lawsuit where damages for pain and suffering also come into play.  However, the workers’ compensation system also benefits the employees, because they do not have to prove negligence or wait as long for benefits.

If you or someone you love has been injured a Boston work accident, call for a free and confidential appointment at (617) 777-7777.

Additional Resources:

Thomas v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc., January 8, 2017, Supreme Court of Mississippi

More Blog Entries:

Scope of Employment in Workers’ Compensation Cases, March 29, 2016, Boston Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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