It’s no secret among lawyers in Alabama that our Workers’ Compensation Act provides very minimal benefits to workers who are injured on the job. In fact, Alabama law provides the nation’s lowest workers’ compensation benefits for amputations. Therefore, knowledgeable personal injury attorneys will always try to find another avenue to recover compensation in addition to workers’ compensation benefits. This is especially important when a client suffers a severe or life-changing injury on the job. The circumstances of how an injury occurred may allow a lawyer to recover additional compensation for an injured worker. While the majority of injured workers will be limited to workers’ compensation benefits, there are a few exceptions in which additional compensation may be pursued:
- When the injury was caused by the negligence of a “third party.”
Under Alabama law, you cannot sue your employer or even a coworker for simple negligence if you were injured on the job. This is the case even when an injury is clearly the fault of the employer or a coworker. However, if the person/entity who negligently injured you was not your employer or coworker (i.e., a “third-party”), you can bring a claim against that person or entity for compensation in addition to workers’ compensation benefits. The most common situation involves an automobile wreck. For example, if you are a delivery driver and another person runs a red light and injures you while you are making deliveries, you would be entitled to both workers’ compensation benefits and damages from the other driver. Other examples include injury by a defective product while on the job or being injured on a job site by someone acting as an independent contractor.
If you successfully recover money from a “third party,” the workers’ compensation insurance carrier may be entitled to be reimbursed the money it paid for your medical treatment and time off work. Nevertheless, it is almost always worth investigating and pursuing potential third-party claims. In workers’ compensation cases, the injured worker cannot recover damages for pain and suffering and mental anguish or punitive damages. Yet, in third-party cases, the injured worker can recover all types of compensatory and punitive damages.
- Willful Conduct of a Co-Employee
Although Alabama law does not permit claims against coworkers for negligence, the Workers’ Compensation Act does allow claims against coworkers in rare situations where a coworker causes injury in a willful manner. Alabama Code Section 25-5-11(c)(1) allows an injured worker to bring a claim against a coworker for willful conduct that causes injury. The Alabama Supreme Court has stated that to prove “willful conduct,” the injured person must prove that the co-employee acted with substantial certainty that injury would occur or acted with a design or intent to injure. As you may guess, these claims are often difficult to prove because the coworker will rarely admit to intentionally injuring another. However, an experienced attorney that understands the statutes and case law can build a case with circumstantial evidence of intent.
- Willful removal of a safety guard or a safety device from a machine.
Alabama Code Section 25-5-11(c)(2) allows an injured worker to bring a claim against a coworker for the removal of a safety guard or safety device provided by the manufacturer of a machine with the knowledge that injury or death would likely or probably result from the removal. These claims are commonly brought against coworkers that removed the guard and managers or supervisors that directed the removal. The injured person must show that the guard or device’s primary purpose was for safety and that the guard or device was provided by the manufacturer of the machine. Fortunately for injured workers, the Alabama Supreme Court has interpreted the word “removal” liberally. Decisions of the Supreme Court have held that “removal” of a guard is the same thing as “failure to install” a guard, “failure to maintain” a guard, and “bypassing” a guard. As such, in order to prevail in a claim, an injured worker must only show that the guard was made available by the manufacturer for safety purposes and was intentionally not put in use by the company.
In almost all instances, when workers are injured on the job, they are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. But if an injury is severe or life-changing, it is important to contact a lawyer who is experienced and is aware of all the details of the complex law concerning claims that provide additional compensation. At Timberlake & League, P.C., we have handled thousands of workers’ compensation cases and have successfully pursued many claims against third parties and co-employees. We will explore every avenue to get the best result for injured workers.