Not every injury that is sustained in the course of a person’s employment has to be compensated only through workers’ compensation. The South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act is supposed to encourage faster and more efficient settlement of injury cases by not requiring an employee to prove the employer’s fault in causing an injury, but it also takes away the employee’s right to seek compensation from the employer through a personal injury lawsuit in civil court. When an injury is caused by a third party other than the employer, it changes the employee’s options for seeking compensation, and allows the possibility of a personal injury lawsuit against the third party.
Who are Third Parties?
Third party personal injury or tort claims can arise out of the negligence of a subcontractor or his employees, manufacturers of equipment, vendors, or from any other person who is unaffiliated with the employer who somehow injures an employee in the course of his employment. Typically, third party claims tend to revolve around product liability cases – for tool and equipment malfunction, and automobile accidents. Injuries caused by co-workers or co-employees of the same employer are generally not treated as injuries caused by third parties, and are probably compensable under workers’ compensation unless the co-employee intended to cause harm or another exception applies.
The ability of an employee to sue for an injury caused by a third party can be extremely beneficial to the employee in terms of recovering enough to more accurately cover the losses suffered in an accident. There are certain things that cannot be compensated through workers’ compensation, for instance, pain and suffering, disfigurement, and punitive damages. In addition, although an injured employee receives benefits to cover lost wages, these are only a percentage of what his total wages would be. If an employee is injured by a third party he can seek compensation for pain and suffering and other losses that would not be permissible if applying for workers’ compensation benefits was the only way he could seek compensation for his injuries.
Filing for Benefits While Pursuing a Third Party Claim
Just because an employee decides to file a claim against the third party does not mean the employee loses the right to also receive workers’ compensation benefits. An employee can receive benefits while in the process of pursuing the lawsuit against the third party, however, once the personal injury case is resolved, he may owe the employer’s insurance company some of the third party settlement. South Carolina law allows the employer’s insurance company to recoup benefits it paid out to an employee who later receives a settlement or judgment from a third party in relation to a workplace injury. The point of reimbursing the insurer is to make sure that the injured employee does not receive a windfall and get double compensation for the same injuries.
The employer’s insurance company usually makes sure it gets paid by attaching a lien to any recovery the injured worker receives that is connected to an employment based injury for which it has paid workers’ compensation benefits. When an injured employee settles the personal injury claim against a third party, he has to inform the employer and the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission for a determination on how much the injured worker has to repay. The insurance company is reimbursed through a formula that takes into account the amount the employee received as well as the attorneys costs and fees incurred in pursuing the case.
If the employee does not wish to seek compensation from the third party, he can simply file for workers’ compensation benefits and not bother with the personal injury claim. The employer’s insurance company would then pay the employee his workers’ compensation benefits, and then may seek reimbursement from the third party in a separate action. Another alternative would be for the injured employee to forgo his workers’ compensation benefits by not filing a workers’ compensation claim at all, and solely proceed with the personal injury claim against the third party. In this case, the injured employee would keep any recovery without having to reimburse the employer or its insurance company. However, the employee should remember that there would be a requirement to prove fault in a personal injury case, which is not an element of a workers’ compensation case. Employees should consult with an experienced attorney before deciding which approach works best for them based on the specific facts of their case.
Contact Us for Legal Assistance
If you suffered a workplace injury and would like to find out what your options are when seeking compensation, you should discuss your case with an dedicated South Carolina workers’ compensation attorney from the Greenville, South Carolina firm of Bryan Ramey & Associates – the initial consultation is FREE. We have experience handling both personal injury and workers’ compensation cases, and can advise you on how to best file a claim that allows you to get the compensation you need to cover your medical costs.