What injured workers should know about third party liability claims in GA

In some cases, injured workers can receive compensation from both workers' comp and a third party claim.

Those who are injured while on-the-job generally qualify for compensation through the workers' compensation system. These benefits are designed to provide aid to victims of workplace accidents in a timely manner. In some cases, those who are injured while working can also qualify for additional compensation through a third party liability claim.

What is the difference between a workers' compensation claim and a third party claim?

Workers' compensation and third party liability claims are two different means of compensation that are available for certain types of workplace accidents. Some of the key differences between these two legal processes include:

  • Party held accountable. A workers' compensation claim is against an employer, while a third party claim is generally against someone else.
  • Types of compensation sought. A workers' comp claim aims to provide funds to the injured party to cover at least a portion of lost wages. A third party claim is designed to cover expenses like future wages as well as pain and suffering.

Navigating both processes is difficult and must be done carefully. It is important to remember that these claims will likely overlap. As such, each must be structured carefully so as not to negate the other claim.

What are some examples of third party claims?

Third party claims can arise in a variety of situations. A common example involves a construction worker that is injured while working. In this scenario, the injury occurs because the worker falls off a ledge. The worker works for one company, but another company was responsible for working on ledge. The injured worker can likely receive workers' comp benefits from his employer while also pursuing a third party claim for additional compensation against the company responsible for maintaining the ledge.

There are also some situations when another individual that works for the same company can be held personally liable for injuries in the event the other worker is responsible for the accident. A relatively recent case that was heard by the Georgia Supreme Court provides some clarity on how these cases work. The case, Smith v. Ellis , involved two workers who were employed with a home building company. Smith was working when Ellis, who had the day off, stopped in to borrow a tool and use of one of Smith's guns. Smith was organizing his tools when Ellis accidentally shot him the leg.

The lower courts found that Smith was able to receive compensation through a workers' comp claim but that he could not hold Ellis liable for additional damages. The reasoning was based on the fact that Smith received a "no liability" settlement with his employer. Georgia state law notes that this type of settlement bars the injured worker from suing a co-employee for further damages. Although the state's highest court agreed with this reasoning, they overturned the holding finding that Ellis was not acting as an employee at the time of the accident. As such, Smith could still hold Ellis liable in a third party suit.

Smith v. Ellis provides support for workers who are injured by a co-worker working outside his or her scope of employment to hold that individual liable for any resulting injuries.

Is an attorney necessary when pursuing both a workers' comp and third party liability claim?

In most cases, it is wise to seek legal counsel when navigating these issues. As noted above, an injured worker is essentially pursuing two claims for the same injury. The claims will overlap. As such, it is important to carefully craft the claims so that one does not cancel out or otherwise harm the other claim.