A primary underlying principle behind the Alabama workers’ compensation system is the elimination of liability issues. With a few exceptions, workers can obtain benefits regardless of whether the worker or employer negligence causes an accidental injury. Of course, this means workers cannot sue employers for negligence, but they can sue negligent third parties.
To protect the rights of workers and their families, an experienced Tuscaloosa workplace injury lawyer looks beyond workers’ compensation claims to determine if an outside party needs to be held accountable. A deadly January 2015 construction site accident shows how this might work.
Guilt and Negligence Are Not the Same Things
According to WVTM-TV, a truck driver hit and struck a young construction worker from behind while he directed traffic in a Birmingham construction zone. The driver admitted that the accident happened because she ran off the road while reaching for her coffee. Perhaps surprisingly, the police decided not to file charges against the driver.
In spite of the police decision, the following are reasons why the construction worker’s family may have a good case if they decide to file a wrongful death suit against the driver — and probably her trucking company, as well:
• As long as the trucker is not directly connected with the construction company, workers’ compensation liability limitations do not apply.
• Police reports would substantiate that distracted driving caused the driver to run off the road.
• Distracted driving amounts to negligence, which is a primary requirement for prevailing in a wrongful death lawsuit or settlement.
Why Third-Party Claims for Work-Related Injuries Can Make Sense
For work-related fatalities, workers’ compensation entitles dependents to receive a portion of the employee’s weekly wage, subject to strict computations, as well as specific time limits. Additionally, benefits stop for surviving spouses who remarry before the end of the benefit period.
Pursuing third-party lawsuits does not subject families to the same limitations posed by workers’ compensation claims. Negotiated settlements add more compensation over the benefits received from workers’ compensation claims, and when third-party lawsuits go to trial, jury awards tend to be generous.
With the understanding that no amount of monetary compensation can ever make up for the loss of a loved one, money is the only available remedy to hold someone accountable for a negligent act. In fact, this additional compensation can be vital to provide families with the resources needed to get back on their feet after the loss of a loved one.
State of Alabama DOL Basic Claim Handling Manual, September 2014
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Alabama Work Accidents, Workers’ Compensation & Third-Party Liability, Tuscaloosa workers compensation blog
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