Third parties are involved in New Jersey worker’s compensation cases more often than you might think. In fact, one of the jobs your New Jersey worker’s compensation lawyer should be doing is identifying any other third parties who might be involved.
For example, if you were driving for work and got into an accident than the third party would be the other driver. If you were using equipment or products on the job and these items injured you because they were defective, the manufacturer of those products is a responsible third party. If a subcontractor failed to follow a safety process and injured you, then the subcontractor becomes the third party. And if you were injured on someone else’s property while working a job for your employer, then the property owner becomes a responsible third party.
This is actually good news, though it can make your case a little more complicated.
You have the right to sue the third party and you never have to choose.
First, let’s talk about what worker’s compensation does.
It is meant to do three things:
- Get you the medical care you need.
- Provide limited financial support for you and your family members while you’re injured.
- Provide very, very limited compensation for your injuries.
It also protects your employer from lawsuits. You usually can’t sue your employer over workplace injuries, even if your employer was grossly negligent and directly contributed to that injury in some way.
But you always have the right to sue the third party, even if you collect worker’s compensation benefits.
And you want to, because there are a whole host of things that worker’s compensation doesn’t cover. Things that a personal injury lawsuit against the third party will cover. These include:
- Future injury costs beyond what worker’s compensation already covers.
- Compensation for future lost wages, which worker’s compensation barely covers.
- Pain and suffering, which worker’s compensation never covers.
- Compensation for disfigurement, which worker’s compensation does not cover.
- Compensation for emotional distress, which worker’s compensation does not cover.
- Punitive damages, which you can’t collect against your employer.
All six of these items are in addition to all of the items Worker’s Compensation is supposed to cover.
The 3rd party claim will take longer.
Worker’s compensation payments generally kick in right away since they’re meant to provide immediate care and relief. The third party lawsuit could take one to three years. This means you’re generally going to get your worker’s compensation benefits long before you see any compensation from the third party.
You’re still going to want to pursue them, as in some cases you may well get your lawsuit funds just as your worker’s compensation money runs out.
The worker’s comp insurance company will get some money back.
You can’t “double dip,” which means you can’t receive payments for something someone else has already paid. Because your worker’s compensation has already handled some of your medical bills and lost wages, they have the right to “subrogate” against the third party.
That means if worker’s compensation pays you $50,000 in medical expenses and lost wages and the 3rd party pays out $250,000, then the worker’s compensation company will receive their $50,000 out of that $250,000 settlement. You don’t get compensated twice.
But that’s okay, because you are still walking away with more money than you would have had if you’d decided not to pursue the 3rd party, which means you’ll be in a much better position to recover both physically and financially from the consequences of your accident.
And since recovery is what both types of compensation are meant to achieve, this all means that when things go well, the system is working exactly as it’s supposed to work.