In South Carolina, an exclusive remedy system is in place for workplace injuries. This system is referred to as the “workers’ compensation system.” Because it is an exclusive remedy, a workers’ comp claim is usually the only way you are allowed to take legal action against your employer for a work-related injury or for an injury that happens on the job.
With very narrow exceptions, you cannot file a personal injury or “tort” lawsuit against an employer or otherwise pursue a claim outside of the workers’ compensation system. However, South Carolina’s workers’ compensation rules do not bar lawsuits against third parties (parties other than the employer or a co-employee) whose negligence contributed to your workplace injury.
To find out more about third-party workplace accident claims, call Joye Law Firm at (888) 324-3100 or fill out our online case evaluation form. Our SC workplace injury lawyers at Joye Law Firm can help you investigate every potential avenue of recovery for your on-the-job injuries.
Limitations of Workers’ Compensation
Workers’ compensation is, in some ways, intended to provide more comprehensive protection to workers than the tort system. It does this by allowing a worker to make a claim for benefits even when an employer didn’t do anything wrong (negligence is usually required in personal injury cases before a victim can recover compensation). Since a worker doesn’t have to prove negligence, employers are almost always liable for work-related injuries and, if an injury arises out of work duties, the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company must pay benefits to the injured worker.
Unfortunately, workers’ compensation also has rules that limit a worker’s rights as well. The most important limitation is that a worker cannot sue an employer for a work injury – he or she must use workers’ compensation, except in very rare instances. A worker is also limited because the benefits under workers’ compensation may not be as comprehensive as the compensation and damages that the injured worker could have received if he or she had been allowed to file a personal injury lawsuit.
For example, a workers’ compensation claim will result in an employer’s insurer paying medical costs as well as partial lost wages in the form of temporary or permanent total or partial disability benefits. A worker does not receive the full and complete amount of income lost as a result of the accident, but instead will get only a portion of the income he or she was not able to earn as a result of the work accident. While a worker may receive a designated amount of compensation for specific types of injuries based on the level of impairment they cause, the worker does not receive compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress or other non-economic damages through workers’ compensation.
In the event that a worker dies, his or her family members also do not have the opportunity to pursue a standard wrongful death action against an employer. The family members will receive designated benefits under workers’ compensation as provided by law, including payment of funeral costs, but won’t get certain other kinds of compensation, including payment for loss of companionship and grief and sorrow.
Because of the limitations inherent in the workers’ compensation system, many injured workers or family members of injured workers are interested in pursuing third-party workplace injury claims.
What is a Third-Party Workplace Injury Claim?
A third-party workplace injury claim is a standard personal injury lawsuit against someone other than an employer who is responsible for a workplace accident or injury. Pursuing a third-party claim could allow injured victims or their family members to get their case into the court system to secure compensation not available to them under state workers’ compensation laws.
There are a number of potential third parties who might be liable for injuries that happen while a person is performing work duties. The specific third parties who might be liable will vary, depending upon the circumstances surrounding the injury. Some examples include:
- Non-employer supervisors or project managers — On a construction site, for example, there might be an engineer, developer or architect who is supervising a project or worksite. If the non-employer is in some way negligent or careless and a worker on the site is injured as a result, then the worker may be able to sue the non-employer supervisor.
- Manufacturers of defective equipment – In many jobs, workers are required to use dangerous equipment. This equipment can be anything from large construction vehicles to tools to office equipment. If the equipment malfunctions and causes an injury, the manufacturer, distributor and seller of the defective product could all be held responsible.
- Drivers – If you are injured in a motor vehicle accident at work, the driver of the other vehicle who caused the accident may be sued in a standard personal injury claim based on the car accident.
- Outside vendors and contractors – If you were injured at work due to the negligence of an outside company that was operating at your job site, you could be able to bring a third-party claim against the company.
- Public utility providers – In some cases, you may be injured by some problem with the electricity, gas or another utility in the area where you are performing work. If this occurs and the public utility provider was negligent in some way, a claim may be made against these third-party providers. If the provider is affiliated with the government, however, this can become tricky as a result of governmental immunity rules.
These are just a few examples of third parties who might be held responsible for work injuries and who could be sued in third-party workplace injury claims. If you suspect anyone other than your employer and its employees might have played a role in causing or contributing to your workplace injury, it is important that you consult with a dedicated workers’ compensation attorney to explore your options for third-party claims.
At Joye Law Firm, our South Carolina workers’ compensation attorneys are ready to review your accident situation from start to finish to help you to determine if you might have a third-party case. If so, we will help you pursue your claim so you can maximize the compensation you receive.
Filing a Third-Party Claim and Receiving Workers’ Comp Benefits
Under the rules in South Carolina, you will generally be able to pursue a civil cause of action against a third party responsible for causing your injury, while also pursuing a workers’ compensation claim. However, you should speak with an attorney about the specifics of how your claims relate so you can make sure you do not do anything to jeopardize your benefits. For example, settling the third-party claim before settling your workers’ compensation claim could void your entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits if you do not follow appropriate procedures.
Contact Our South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Today
Our South Carolina workplace injury lawyers at Joye Law Firm can help you throughout the entire workers’ compensation benefits process, including identifying and pursuing potential third-party claims. Call Joye Law Firm at (888) 324-3100 now or fill out our online case evaluation form for a free consultation.