Most people associate workers' compensation with someone injured by machinery or who have been injured by a fall.
But what about an employee who is injured in a car accident? With an increasing amount of cars on the roadways and highways, many of these vehicles are being used for work-related reasons. It is important to understand your legal rights if you are injured in an auto accident while on the job.
While you might qualify for workers’ compensation after an accident, there may be other legal avenues you can undertake to gain full compensation for your injuries. Here are a few things to consider:
Injured at work
The rules for workers’ compensation differs from state to state, typically as long as injuries are work-related, benefits will be awarded. Workers’ compensation benefits would cover employees’ medical expenses, lost wages, and other accommodations even if the accident was the fault of the employee.
The relationship between employers and employees who drive company vehicles falls under the legal doctrine of respondeat superior. This means the employers are legally responsible for the actions of their employees while “acting within the scope of their employment.” This includes paying for injuries and property damage caused by an employee while driving a company vehicle.
When an employee is driving a company truck, car or other motorized vehicle, usually the employee is acting within scope of their employment, this includes:
- Making a delivery
- Running a work-related errand
- Driving another employee for work-related purposes
- Travel for which the employee is compensated by the employer
- Driving to and off-site jobs
- Using the company vehicle while pursuing other job duties
What if you were at fault?
The doctrines of respondeat superior and acting within the scope of employment apply particularly to auto accidents involving company cars. If it is found an employee’s negligence causes another person’s (third party) injury or property damage, then the employer and employee can be held liable, third parties include:
- Drivers of other vehicles
- Their passengers,
- Passengers in the company vehicle
The good news is, in most cases, the employer’s liability insurance protects the employee against third party actions, meaning the employee wouldn’t have to pay damages to the injured third parties.
What is Included in Compensatory Damages?
- Medical bills
- Out-of-pocket expenses
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
Along with protecting the employee from paying damages, the employer will pay any legal fees if a lawsuit is filed against the employee by injured third parties.
Not only would the employee be protected against any third party actions, but he or she may also qualify for workers’ compensation if injured as a result of the accident. Unlike car accident injury cases in civil court, workers’ compensation is a no-fault system.This means that even when the employee is at fault for causing his or her injuries, he or she will still be awarded workers’ compensation benefits.
An exception to employee indemnification applies if an employee committed a crime or was under the influence of drugs or alcohol while operating a company vehicle. If the accident involves criminal action, then the employer may rightfully refuse to indemnify the employee, as well as deny workers’ compensation coverage for medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and lost wages.
Civil Claims VS. Workers Compensation Claims
If the situation is reversed and you were injured due to a third parties’ negligence, you may bring a “civil claim” against the driver or his or her insurance company. A civil claim is brought if you sustained injuries because of the fault or negligence of the other driver. The driver responsible for your injuries is known as a “third party,” and bringing a claim against that driver is known as a “third party claim.”
The big difference between a workers’ compensation claim and a personal injury civil claim are the types of damages that can be recovered.
In a workers’ compensation claim you ordinarily receive payments only for your medical bills and lost wages. You will not receive payments for any physical or mental pain and suffering that you endured from your injuries. These can only be recovered in a personal injury civil claim and are known as “general damages.”
Another disparity, workers’ compensation benefits do not cover property damage. Meaning, your employer is not responsible for paying any repairs to your car, even if you were running an errand at your employer’s request. If you seek payment for vehicle damage, this can only be recovered through a civil claim.
Another important factor setting worker’s comp and civil claims apart is fault. When you bring a third party claim against a third party driver, you must prove the other driver caused the car accident. However, let’s say you caused the crash, most states limit or prohibit altogether the damages you can collect if you are found at fault.
In a Georgia workers’ compensation claim the guidelines are very different. In most cases, you do not need to prove anyone else caused the car accident. You may collect workers’ compensation benefits even if the car accident is your fault. Under the statues in most states you only need to show:
- You were injured
- Were “on the job.”
The Statue of Limitations
The two claims also significantly vary in the time periods within which you may file your claim. In a personal injury civil claim, you may have up to one, two, or even five years to file your civil lawsuit (varies by states.) In a workers’ compensation claim, the standards of time are often much shorter. Frequently, when you are injured on the job, you must notify your employer within a matter of days, or sometimes as soon as 24 hours. If you fail to meet that requirement, the employer may have a defense to your claim.
Can I bring both a workers compensation claim and a civil suit?
Even though dealing with both claims can be very confusing, you don’t typically have to choose between filing a workers’ compensation claim and filing a civil claim. Even if you collect workers’ compensation benefits, you still have the right to seek damages from the other driver who caused the accident.
However, a “lien” can come into play if you receive workers’ compensation benefits from your employer. Meaning, if you reach a settlement agreement in your third party civil claim, your employer can require reimbursement for the amount of workers’ compensation benefits the employer paid you. A lien is the equivalent of a right to reimbursement.
If you need assistance in filing a workers' compensation claim or a personal injury civil suit the Brown Firm has the experience and knowledge you need to bring a successful lawsuit.Get a free complimentary consultation with Georgia's Premier Personal Injury Attorney's; we can fully protect your rights as an injury victim.
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