As stated in previous articles in this series, when faced with unexpected economic harms and losses due to personal injury, it is important to explore -- and understand -- all legal avenues and options which may be available to seek and secure appropriate benefits and compensation. Depending upon the surrounding circumstances, there may be multiple sources of recovery. Leave no stone unturned!
When one suffers a disabling injury due to a work incident, the possibility of holding a negligent “third party” responsible should be investigated. Under Pennsylvania law, injured workers may be entitled to medical treatment of an injury and reimbursement of a portion of their lost wages from their employer (or its insurance company), but they are not normally permitted to sue their employers directly for additional compensation for pain and suffering – even when the negligence of those employers is directly responsible for causing the underlying incident. However, sometimes someone or something else has done something – or failed to do something – which is a substantial factor in causing the injury. This might be the driver of a motor vehicle, or one who maintains a piece of property, or a construction contractor or subcontractor performing nearby work. That person is called a "third party" -- and it is sometimes possible to pursue a personal injury lawsuit against a negligent third party while simultaneously collecting workers' compensation benefits.
It must be noted, of course, that, if such a personal injury claim is ultimately successful, the employer or its workers’ compensation carrier may be entitled to reimbursement of a portion of the monies it has expended which are related to that injury. This concept is known as “subrogation” – the legal right of an entity which has paid out benefits in connection with an injury which was caused by a negligent “third party” to be compensated, or re-paid, by that “third party” out of any resulting lawsuit. Nonetheless, an injured person will always be better off having sought appropriate compensation from all potentially responsible persons and entities – if he or she has a knowledgeable attorney or law firm thoughtfully coordinating the recovery of benefits.
One example of where the possibility of recovery from multiple sources exists is when a worker is injured in a motor vehicle collision while in the course and scope of employment. Although Pennsylvania’s Motor Vehicle Responsibility Law generally prohibits subrogation, this no longer applies to workers’ compensation matters. Accordingly, even where a worker has purchased Uninsured (UM) or Underinsured (UIM) coverage through his or her own motor vehicle insurance company, and rightfully seeks recovery under the terms of that policy, he or she must be aware of a right of subrogation on the part of the workers’ compensation carrier.
Another example of where the possibility of recovery from multiple sources exists is when a worker is injured in a “slip and fall” incident which was caused by a negligent “third party.” It has been estimated that more than one million people are injured each year in accidents in which they slip, trip or fall. Wet or icy floors, sidewalks or parking lots, inadequate lighting, or poor maintenance of a property can all be causes of such incidents. In many such cases, the property owner or its subcontractor may have been negligent in fulfilling the responsibility to provide a safe premises for customers or business invitees. When his is the case, they could be held liable for all resulting damages.
As we have just experienced, winters in Pennsylvania can bring much snow and ice – resulting in treacherous conditions in parking lots and on sidewalks. With such wintry conditions, a duty is placed upon the property owner to act within a reasonable time -- after notice -- to remove the snow and ice when it constitutes a dangerous condition. Courts in Pennsylvania continue to recognize the established common law regarding legal duties of care imposed on landowners, and apply what is known as the “Hills and Ridges” doctrine. This normally applies to paved areas where pedestrians are expected to travel. In order for an injured person to recover, he or she must show that ridges or elevations -- and not just generally slippery conditions -- were the cause of the fall. See Rinaldi v. Levine, 176 A.2d 623 (Pa.1962).
In fact, we currently represent an injured worker who stopped at a convenience store for a cup of coffee during his work day. Unfortunately, because of the way that snow and ice had been improperly cleared, he slipped and fell, suffering serious physical injuries. As previously indicated, here, the workers’ compensation carrier who paid his medical and wage loss benefits has asserted its right of “subrogation” -- and this must be factored into any potential resolution with the negligent “third party.”
Wherever injuries are caused by the negligence of a “third party,” a lawyer should analyze all surrounding circumstances and explore each path of potential recovery. Although it will often involve “subrogation,” pursuit of a personal injury claim against a responsible “third party” should lead to more appropriate recovery and compensation for all the harms and losses sustained. However, it is important to navigate this properly because the way one claim is handled can seriously affect the pursuit of another. Without knowledgeable legal representation, one may forfeit some of rights or accept less than is rightfully deserved.
If you suffer an injury on the job or elsewhere, High Swartz will pursue and protect your rights and seek to obtain all monetary and other benefits to which you are legally entitled. As most personal injury attorneys do, we work on a contingent fee basis. That is, the attorney's fee is contingent upon our winning or settling the case. With no need to lay out legal fees in advance, all people can afford a good lawyer.
There are many qualified attorneys who specialize in one area of disability law or another. However, it would seem prudent to consult a firm – like High Swartz – where multiple attorneys who focus on specific areas of disability law can work together to effectively coordinate a strategy to maximize your recovery and minimize the risks of leaving any valuable stone unturned. Our attorneys in Bucks County and Montgomery County are here to assist you. If you have questions regarding obtaining compensation for personal injuries, please contact Eric Marttila, Esq., at (215) 345-8888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The information above is general: we recommend that you consult an attorney regarding your specific circumstances. The content of this information is not meant to be considered as legal advice or a substitute for legal representation.