Third-Party Workers’ Compensation Claims in California

In California workplace injury cases, the general rule is that a workers’ compensation claim is the injured employee’s sole remedy against their employer. The idea is that the no-fault workers’ compensation program is a more efficient method of getting an injured employee the compensation they need while they recover from their injuries. However, damages are limited in California workers’ compensation cases to actual medical expenses and lost wages.

California law also permits workplace injury cases to be filed against third parties that are responsible for an employee’s injuries. For example, if a truck driver is injured while unloading his cargo due to some hazard on the loading dock, the company receiving the delivery may be named as a third-party defendant in a personal injury lawsuit. However, special care must be taken in the preparation of these cases to avoid unintended consequences.

A recent case discusses the difficulties one plaintiff encountered after successfully obtaining a judgment against a third-party defendant. In that case, the plaintiff was injured in a Wal-Mart store while on the clock for another company. Immediately after her injury, the plaintiff sought and obtained workers’ compensation benefits through her employer for both medical expenses and lost wages.

The plaintiff then filed a third-party personal injury case against Wal-Mart and was successful. As noted above, she was permitted to do this because Wal-Mart was not her employer. She was awarded approximately $350,000, including amounts for medical expenses as well as her pain and suffering. No award was given for lost wages because the plaintiff did not ask for this compensation at trial.

After successfully obtaining the judgment against Wal-Mart, the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company sought to be reimbursed for all of the benefits it provided to the plaintiff by placing a lien on her judgment. Labor Code sections 3852 and 3856 expressly permit a lien in this circumstance. Additionally, the lien can be for the entire amount paid to the employee – the statute does not mention the types of damages sought or provided.

The plaintiff objected, arguing that lost wages were not a part of the judgment she received from Wal-Mart and that the insurance company should not be permitted to recover lost-wages benefits from her. The court, however, disagreed. The court explained that the only deduction that the statute allows is for reasonable attorney’s fees, and there is no deduction for damages that are not recovered. As a result, the plaintiff will be required to reimburse the insurance company not just for the medical expense benefits but also for the lost wages benefits she did not recover in her personal injury case against Wal-Mart.

Have You Been Injured on the Job?

If you have recently been injured in a California workplace accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Importantly, it may be that your potential compensation is maximized through a third-party personal injury case rather than a workers’ compensation claim. To learn more, and to speak with a dedicated California personal injury attorney about your case, call Sharifi Firm at 866-422-7222 to schedule a free consultation. We routinely advise clients who have been injured on the job on how to maximize their compensation.

More Blog Posts:

Charter Bus Full of Employees Crashes on the Way to Holiday Party, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, December 12, 2017

California Court Discusses the Scope of Church’s Duty to Parishioner in Recent Premises Liability Case, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, November 27, 2017

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