You have worker’s compensation insurance to cover employee workplace injuries, but of course you hope none of your workers will become injured on the job. When an injury-accident does occur, there is sometimes confusion about an employer’s liability, especially when other factors come into play. When an employee’s injuries are caused by the actions of a customer, a vendor or another business, are you – as the employer – liable?
The short answer is that while you are still responsible under Wisconsin’s worker’s compensation law, you and your employee may be able to pursue a claim against the party responsible for causing the accident. In fact, pursuing these “third-party liability claims” can help keep your worker’s compensation insurance premiums down.
Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation Basics
In Wisconsin, the worker’s compensation system is a “no-fault” program. Essentially, this means that injured workers can recover under the program regardless of whose fault, employer or employee, caused the injury; if it happened in the course of their employment, it should be covered. There is no requirement for an injured person to prove that negligence, either on the part of their employer, a co-worker, or even another outside party, led to the accident to get worker’s comp benefits.
Workers are entitled to payment of their reasonable and necessary medical expenses and benefits for lost wages resulting from a work injury. In certain cases, injured workers may also recover additional benefits under worker’s compensation, including permanent functional loss and expenses like vocational rehabilitation.
In most cases, worker’s compensation is an injured worker’s exclusive remedy. That means the worker cannot sue the employer for additional damages beyond what the worker’s compensation system provides benefits for.
Understanding Third-Party Liability Claims
In addition to the safety net worker’s compensation provides, an injured employee or his or her employer may also be able to pursue compensation from one or more third parties.
In the case of an injury on the job that was caused by another person’s or business’s intentional or negligent actions, you or your injured worker can file a lawsuit in civil court to hold that party financially responsible for their actions. This is referred to as a third-party liability claim. If you prevail in that matter, your injured employee may be able to recover damages for their pain and suffering and your worker’s comp insurer can recover the benefits it has paid to your employee.
Why should you care if the insurer and your employee get paid? If your employee and carrier are able to prove that case, your worker’s compensation premiums should not go up because effectively, there will have been no worker’s compensation claim made. The employee will be paid and the insurer will be paid. With no money paid by your insurance at the end, your insurer should be able to protect your rate. Therefore, you can and should work together with your employee to show your worker’s compensation insurance carrier that another party was found to be at fault. Smart employers will make their employee into their ally to prove their business was not the main or sole cause of the employee’s claim. It ends up being a win-win for you and your employee, (and even your insurer).
What Else do Employers Need to Know?
If an employee makes a workplace injury report, understand your obligations under Wisconsin’s worker’s compensation laws. In general, even if you believe another party or business caused the injury, you should still file a claim promptly with your worker’s compensation insurance company. While the other business’s actions may have contributed to or caused the employee’s injuries, you could still bear some responsibility.
When you pursue a third-party liability claim, your attorney will help you document the injury and the circumstances that demonstrate that the other business was at fault. Often collecting evidence of the other party’s fault is critically time-sensitive. Documenting the facts is essential.
Schott, Bublitz & Engel Can Help Protect Your Interests
When a workplace injury is severe and not straightforward, hiring a skilled worker’s compensation attorney who works with business owners can help you protect your interests. Your attorney will work to determine if it makes sense to pursue a third-party liability claim against another business or individual.
To learn more about how a skilled employer’s worker’s compensation and personal injury attorney can help in the case of a worker who was injured by another employer’s actions, contact Schott, Bublitz & Engel today online or call us at 262.827.1700.
By Raymond H. LaBarge
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Schott, Bublitz & Engel s.c. has been meeting the legal needs of clients in Wisconsin for over 26 years. As the firm’s reputation has grown, so has the extent of our legal expertise.