An on the Job Car Accident Works Differently Than You'd Expect.
Simply put, if you're injured in a car accident while you're on the job, you'll encounter some unique legal issues that don't come up in normal car accident cases. In particular, you'll find that the presence of workers' compensation will have an impact on your settlement, and, if you don't know how to navigate through these murky waters, the workers' comp carrier can actually take your settlement monies away.
The goods news is that our attorneys have helped many clients in your position, and we know how to get you the most amount of compensation from the wrongdoer's insurance and how to keep workers' comp from taking your money to reimburse themselves.
Questions answered in this section:
- If my employer has workers' compensation, can I still sue them for my car accident?
- What if I was injured on the job, but my car accident wasn't caused by a co-worker?
- Can I receive workers' compensation benefits and file a claim against the person who caused by accident?
Before we get started.
We're assuming that you're reading this page because you were driving while on the clock and some other motorist then caused an accident that left you injured. If that's the case, keep reading. If, on the other hand, you were driving for work and you were hurt by the misconduct for a co-worker or if you caused your own accident, then you need to jump to this section here.
Here are some legal concepts you need to understand in order to know how your on-the-clock car accident will play out:
Insurance carriers don't automatically owe you compensation.
With workers' compensation, life insurance, health insurance, etc., you have a contract that says if you meet the qualification criteria, the insurance carrier has to pay you what they've agreed to pay. But when it comes to getting money from someone else's insurance, that is done on an "at-fault basis."
This means you only get compensated from the other driver's insurance when a jury says they have to pay you. Either that, or you'll need to convince the carrier that a jury will say the driver's insurance has to pay you, should the case go to trial. Don't make the mistake of thinking that, just because your workers' compensation carrier paid up without a fight that the other driver's insurance carrier will do the same. Workers' comp coverage is no-fault coverage, meaning the law requires the carrier to pay you, while the car insurance for the guy who caused your accident is at-fault coverage, so they don't have to pay... unless you make them in court.
You need to understand what "subrogation" is.
This is an important term. Subrogation is the term used when one party claims the legal rights of another that it's reimbursed for losses. In the case of insurance companies, the company will pay one of its customers for damages incurred in an accident. After this, it will file a claim against the person or persons who caused those damages.
Lets say that a driver is stopped at a red light and he's rear-ended by another driver who wasn't watching the road. The first driver has insurance on his vehicle, and the insurance company pays him for the damage done to his car. After this is taken care of, the insurance company then steps into the driver's shoes and files a claim against the driver of the vehicle that caused the accident, in an attempt to reimburse itself for the money it's just paid out. This is subrogation.
How Texas Work Injury Laws Work
When it comes to work accidents, we have two systems of laws in Texas: workers' compensation and non-subscriber. The workers' compensation system applies to those employers that carry workers' compensation insurance. If you're injured while on the job, your employer uses workers' compensation to pay you benefits. These benefits are used to pay for medical bills, lost wages, etc. The key characteristic of the workers' compensation system is that said system is designed to pay injured workers benefits, irrespective of how the accident happened. In exchange for this "guaranteed" compensation, workers lose the right to sue an employer for work injuries. It's simple: if the employer opts in to the workers' comp system, the only compensation an employee can receive is the aforementioned
When we say "non-subscriber," we mean those employers that don't subscribe to the workers' compensation system. While an injured workers' rights are very limited when it comes to filing a lawsuit against an employer after being injured, these limitations don't exist for non-subscribers.
Which scenario applies to you?
Now that you know the basics of the various laws that apply to a car accident while on the job, pick the scenario below that best describes your situation:
Your Employer Has Workers' Comp
Let's say that you deliver pizzas. One night, you're making a delivery when an oncoming vehicle drifts into your lane and crashes into you. Joe's Pizza Parlor pays you your workers' comp benefits, and because the driver that hit you is not affiliated with your employer, you're able to sue him for damages. Now, you might think that this would be the end of it. This is not the case. Now, the name of the game becomes keeping the workers' comp system from wanting all of its money back. Workers' compensation will pay for all of your medical bills and part of your lost wages. On the surface, this is great, since you will receive immediate compensation to deal with your injuries. However, as is so often the case, there's a catch.
Although workers' compensation will pay your medical bills, when you are eventually able to get compensation from the party responsible for your accident, workers' comp will garnish it to repay itself for what it has paid you. For example, if you receive $25,000 from workers' compensation and then are able to receive a settlement from the defendant for $30,000, you would theoretically have to pay your employer back the $25,000 you received from workers' compensation.
With an experienced lawyer, though, that situation can change entirely. A lawyer can negotiate on your behalf with the workers' compensation insurance carrier to ensure that you're not paying them back almost all of your earnings from the settlement, but something much more manageable that appeases them and you're not left without your fair due.
Your Employer Does Not Have Workers' Comp
If your employer does not subscribe to workers' comp, and you're hurt by some random passerby, they're probably not going to be held responsible for that. However, if you're injured by a co-worker, or through your employer's negligence, and they don't have workers' comp, you're able to file suit against them and make them pay for your damages.
Accidents You Cause, Or Were Caused by a Co-Worker
Let's take a look at a few scenarios involving accidents caused by you or a co-worker.
- You caused a car accident, and your employer has workers' comp. If you caused your own on-the-job car accident and your employer has workers' comp coverage, you'll still receive benefits. Exactly how the accident happened won't have any bearing on that.
- You caused a car accident, and your employer is a non-subscriber. If you cause an on-the-job accident and your employer has no workers' comp coverage, you have no case. When your employer lacks workers' comp and you're injured in an accident, the only way you can file suit against them is when that accident was caused through their negligence. If you caused the accident, it was your negligence that caused your injuries, not the employer's, so you have no grounds to sue.
Now, let's look at a few scenarios in which an accident was caused by a co-worker.
- Your co-worker caused an accident, and your employer has workers' comp. This scenario is similar to the first one we outlined above. In this case, workers' comp would not differentiate between your employer and a co-worker. You would receive workers' comp benefits either way. And while that is good news, it's also worth pointing out that workers' comp is the ONLY compensation you can receive if your employer subscribes to that coverage. So even if your co-worker was incredibly negligent, you still don't have the right to sue your employer; you can only receive workers' comp benefits.
- Your co-worker caused an accident, and your employer is a non-subscriber. In this scenario, since your employer opted out of workers' comp and is therefore not afforded the lawsuit immunity that employers who opt in receive, you can sue your employer. It's important to note that, as far as the accident is concerned, your co-worker -- who caused the accident -- and your employer are considered to be one and the same.
Sometimes accidents are complex and involve multiple acts of negligence. Also, it may sometimes appear that one person is at fault, but when the matter is examined closer, it turns out that someone else altogether is to blame.
Example: Let's say you're a truck driver who's under pressure to make deliveries in shorter and shorter amounts of time. Your employer instructs you to violate the hours of service rules and drive over the federally mandated time limit. If you fall asleep at the wheel and cause an accident, you may have been in the drivers' seat, but the accident was caused because of your employer. If you're unsure about who may ultimately be held liable in an accident, it's best to consult with a lawyer.
What do we mean when we say compensation?
There are several things you can compensated for in a regular workers' comp case, as well as things you can be compensated for in a non-subscriber case. First, we'll look at workers' comp.
- Medical benefits. This is pretty self-explanatory. In many accidents, these are a victims' biggest concern. Texas workers' compensation laws say that your employer is required to pay these costs. However, there are still things to be wary of. Your employer is able to choose your doctor from a network of physicians who receive all of their pay from workers' comp accidents. Because of this, they're sometimes reluctant to give their patients all the care they need, for fear of over-charging the employers. More information on medical benefits can be found here.
- Income benefits. These benefits are meant to cover the wages an injury victim loses out on while recovering. A victim becomes eligible for these benefits if their injuries necessitate missing more than seven days of work. Unfortunately, these benefits don't match a victim's salary dollar-for-dollar. They're paid out based on a formula calculated by the state. You can read more about income benefits here.
- Death benefits. These are much like income benefits, but are paid out to a victim's family after a fatal accident. You can read more about them here.
- Burial benefits. These are meant to pay for a victim's burial expenses. More information on burial benefits can be found here.
Next, we'll look at things you can be compensated for in a non-subscriber case.
- Pain and suffering. Pain and suffering is exactly what it sounds like: the actual physical pain that was suffers through when injured in an accident. This is something that can have a lasting effect on a victim's body. With the help of testimony and evidence, this is something that courts often compensate victims for. You can learn more about these types of damages here.
- Mental anguish. When a lawyer refers to mental anguish, they mean things such as depression and anxiety. Things that can last for years after an accident has occurred, and which many victims need the help of medical professionals to overcome. We go more into mental anguish in this section here.
- Disfigurement. This can mean things such as scarring or lost limbs. The consequences of disfigurement can be tragic, and in the past have even led to people taking their own lives. Read more about disfigurement here.
- Medical costs/lost wages. Serious accidents often come with great financial cost. Depending on the severity of the accident, someone may be unable to work. The cost of medical treatment can quickly spiral out of control, with victims finding they owe hundreds of thousands of dollars. These would be grouped into what lawyers call "compensatory damages," and you can learn more about them here.
You need a car accident attorney with experience.
A car accident attorney who is experienced with workers' compensation cases will be able to help you through this entire process. They will be able to do two things: 1. Get the largest settlement possible so you can repay the workers' comp lien, and 2. Get the workers' comp lien as low as possible so you do not have to repay a large amount.
Our car accident attorneys at Grossman Law Offices are in a unique position because we have experience in both car accident cases and workers' compensation cases. We have helped thousands of clients not only determine their rights under the law, but also receive the compensation that they deserve. Call today for a free consultation at (855) 326-0000 .
Related Articles for Further Reading:
- Insurance Carriers Are Not Required to Pay Your Medical Bills
- Don't Settle Your Car Accident Case Prematurely
- After My Car Accident, Do I Really Need a Lawyer?