Workers’ compensation exists to provide a way for victims of workplace injuries or illnesses an avenue for recovery, so that they need not suffer a financial burden on top of their disabling condition. It also helps employers limit their financial risk. Most of the time, an injured worker cannot both collect workers’ comp and sue his or her employer for damages.
In other words, workers’ compensation is an “exclusive remedy,” with one important exception: when a third party contributed to, or is solely responsible for, the victim’s injuries.
In terms of workplace injuries, third party claims can involve the manufacturers of the product or machine that injured the victim. Say a machine has a defective guard that fails to protect a worker from the machinery. Shouldn’t the company that designed, manufactured and/or sold that defective part be at least partly responsible for compensating the victim?
In general, the employer does not get directly involved in third-party litigation, which takes place in civil court and is separate from the workers’ compensation system. However, the employer can recover its workers’ comp payments and other obligations out of any judgment the injured worker receives from the third party.
Whether or not to pursue a third-party claim depends on the circumstances of the victim’s particular injuries, and perhaps whether workers’ compensation alone is enough to make the victim financially whole again. This could be part of the discussion victims will have with their workers’ compensation attorney, if circumstances make a third-party suit a possibility.