If you are injured at work, or have a loved one who died at work, you may have a personal injury claim against any independent third party involved. Although normally a person who is injured or dies while working is limited to rights under the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation laws, you can also bring a traditional personal injury or wrongful death action against any independent third party who had a responsible hand in causing the injury or death.
In cases where an employee is hurt at work and some third party did something to cause it, the employee can bring not only a workers’ compensation action against the employer, but also a personal injury action against that third party. A personal injury lawsuit—as opposed to a workers’ compensation action—allows the employee to ask a jury to award the full range of damages, including medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost wages. These damages are not recoverable in a workers’ compensation action.
Similarly, if an employee actually dies and a third party did something negligent to cause it, the employee’s family can bring a wrongful death action against the third party, in addition to the workers compensation claim against the employer. Again, a wrongful death lawsuit allows the family to recover damages, including for the pain and suffering of the relative, the loss of the value of the person’s life, lost relations with the loved one, and lost earnings for the person’s lifetime. Again, these are not recoverable in a workers’ compensation action.
For example, there was an recently accident in Clarksville, Tennessee, that reportedly involved a front-end loader that was on the back of a tractor/trailer, came free, and rolled forward onto and demolished the cab of the tractor/trailer that was hauling it, killing the driver. The general recovery in this type of case against the driver’s employer will be under the workers’ compensation laws.
But, if some independent third party was involved—for example, if it was an independent third party who loaded the front-end loader and negligently failed to properly secure it on the truck—then the driver’s family may be able to sue that independent third party to recover all damages available for the wrongful death of the driver, in addition to the separate, more limited claim against the employer under the Workers’ Compensation system.
It is very important, therefore, to analyze any injury or death that occurs in the workplace to determine if any independent third party was responsible. An injured Tennessee worker or the family of a deceased Tennessee worker may be able to more fully recover for the injuries that occurred in such situations.