Indiana’s worker’s compensation laws prevent injured workers from suing their employers or other people employed by the same employer for causing a work injury, unless it can be proven that the employer or another employee purposely harmed the worker. For example, if your supervisor intentionally punches you in the face and breaks your nose, you may be permitted to file a lawsuit against your boss. However, you will be asked to choose between accepting worker’s compensation benefits and pursuing the lawsuit.
If your work accident happens due to the fault of another company or person employed by another company, you may file a lawsuit for damages. This lawsuit would be in addition to your claim for worker’s compensation benefits.
For example: You are traveling to a job site for your employer and are involved in a car accident when another driver runs a red light. Since you were injured during the course of your employment when the accident happened, you will probably be entitled to worker’s compensation benefits for your injuries, and you may also sue the other driver, a third party, for damages because of their negligence in running the red light.
Another example: You are working on a large construction project and fall off the top of the building. You work for a sub-contractor and the general contractor is in charge of job site safety. At the time of the fall, you were not furnished any safety fall protection such as a harness and lanyard. You may file a lawsuit against the general contractor.
Final example: You work on an assembly line. Your hand is crushed by a machine. The machine is three (3) years old and did not have a properly designed machine guard. You may file a lawsuit against the company responsible for designing the machine.
Like a worker’s compensation claim, a lawsuit against a company other than your employer (a third-party lawsuit) must be filed within two years of the date of the accident.
If the third-party lawsuit involves a piece of defective machinery or equipment, the piece of machinery or equipment must have been manufactured less than ten years before the date of the accident in order to file a lawsuit. However, if any new parts were installed on the piece of machinery or equipment within ten years of the date of the accident, the manufacturer may still be liable if those defective parts caused the accident or injury.
It is important to understand the differences between a worker’s compensation claim and a third-party lawsuit. Worker’s compensation claims are handled by the Worker’s Compensation Board of Indiana, while third-party lawsuits are handled in civil courts. If a worker’s compensation claim cannot be resolved by the attorneys or insurance company representatives involved, the claim will be decided by a member of the Board. However, if a third-party lawsuit cannot be settled out of court, the outcome will be decided by a jury.
Unlike third-party claims, personal injury claims do include benefits for pain and suffering. Third-party claims may also include compensation for future financial losses. A worker’s compensation claim may rely on a permanent partial impairment rating for settlement, but a third-party claim has no such system to award damages.
If you are planning on pursuing both a worker’s compensation claim and a third-party lawsuit, it is important to understand that if you are awarded a settlement for the third-party claim, it is likely that the money from that settlement will be used to reimburse the worker’s compensation carrier for the worker’s compensation benefits paid to the injured worker. Unfortunately, the Indiana Worker’s Compensation Act allows this, and it happens in almost all cases involving a worker’s compensation insurance carrier and a third party.