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Workers’ Compensation Claim vs. Third-Party Liability

Under Tennessee’s workers’ compensation law, employees are generally not allowed to sue their employers for the medical expenses and loss of wages caused by the work-related injury. Workers’ compensation is not concerned with determining whether the employer was at fault for causing the work-related accident. Rather, the purpose of workers’ compensation is to help injured workers handle the medical expenses and loss of wages that result from suffering injuries at work. If an employee is injured on the job, workers’ compensation insurance benefits will cover the cost of medical expenses, as well as pay a portion of the injured employee’s medical expenses. Workers’ compensation is intended to be the sole form of remedy for an employee to recover compensation against the employer.

Unfortunately, however, workers’ compensation insurance benefits do not always cover the full cost of medical expenses. What is more, workers’ compensation benefits cover only a portion of the injured employee’s loss of wages. As such, if an employee suffers a long-lasting or permanent disability, the injured employee will often be significantly under compensated for the financial

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consequences of suffering the work-related injury. The employee, therefore, may not be able to support themselves or their family.

Third-Party Liability Lawsuits

Fortunately, employees who suffer an injury at work may be able to obtain additional compensation if the injury was caused by the negligence of a third party. In these situations, the injured employee will have to file a separate personal injury lawsuit against the third party. These are known as “third-party claims.”

Tennessee’s Workers’ Compensation Reform Act states that “[w]hen the injury or death for which compensation is payable … was caused under circumstances creating a legal liability against some person other than the employer to pay damages, the injured worker, or the injured worker’s dependents, shall have the right to take compensation …, and the injured worker, or those to whom the injured worker’s right of action survives at law, may pursue the injured worker’s or their remedy by proper action in a court of competent jurisdiction against the other person.”

Examples of Third-Party Claims

An employee who suffers an injury at work will not always have a claim against a third party or parties to recover additional compensation. Rather, these types of claims arise only when a party other than the employer acted negligently in some way that caused the work-related accident. There are numerous types of situations when an injured worker may have a third-party claim; however, common examples of these types of claims, involve:

  • Negligent driver of another vehicle;
  • Negligently manufactured or installed scaffolding;
  • Defective tools, machinery, and equipment
  • Negligent contractor or subcontractor of another employer at the worksite caused an accident;
  • A worksite that was not maintained in a safe and proper condition; or
  • Negligent construction or architect designs.

In these situations, an employee who suffers an injury at work may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against a third-party or parties in order to obtain additional compensation. Importantly, in order to succeed in a negligence claim, the injured worker will need to show that the third-party owed a duty to the employee, the third-party breached the duty by acting improperly or by failing to take particular action, the breach of the duty caused the employee injuries, and the employee suffered some monetary loss.

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