If your workplace accident was caused by a negligent third party, and you file a successful personal injury lawsuit against them, the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) has a right to recoup at least some of what they paid out on your workers’ comp medical claim from your settlement. This is known as subrogation. So, while you aren’t technically paying the BWC back out of your pocket, some of your personal injury compensation will go to pay back the BWC.
A work injury involving a personal injury lawsuit is a complicated situation, but both your workers’ comp attorney and your personal injury attorney—which will often be two different people—can help you navigate the complexities. We explain how these two types of claims can occur at the same time.
The Basics: Worker’s Comp vs. Personal Injury
The first thing to understand is that workers’ compensation is no-fault insurance that covers you for the cost of injuries sustained while performing your job duties. It doesn’t matter if the accident happened because you were careless or because your employer or a coworker did something wrong. Your medical bills will be covered by workers’ comp, and if you are approved for total disability—either temporary or permanent—you will recover lost wages as well. This also means you cannot sue your employer for damages even if they contributed to the cause of your accident. The exception to this rule is an intentional tort, wherein the employer purposely caused a worker’s injuries.
However, if you were officially “on the clock” and someone other than your employer or a coworker caused your accident, you might have a liability claim against them. You can sue an unrelated third party for causing your accident in addition to filing for workers’ compensation. Once the personal injury claim is settled, the BWC will collect medical and compensation costs they paid on behalf of the injured worker. Recoverable costs include all past, present, and estimated future payments of compensation, medical benefits, rehabilitation costs, or death benefits paid to or on behalf of the claimant.
How Do Personal Injury Accidents Happen in the Workplace?
It’s unusual for a workplace accident to be caused by an unrelated third party, but it happens. Some common examples include:
- Motor vehicle accident. This is the most common cause of third-party accidents. If your job duties require you to drive a vehicle and another driver causes an accident that leaves you injured, you could sue the driver for damages.
- Premises liability. An employee on the clock but off their employer’s property when they slip and fall could have a personal injury claim against the property owner. Or, if the employer contracts out for security, and an intruder assaults a worker, the worker might have a liability claim against the security company.
- Product liability. If a machine used to perform a job malfunctions and injures the operator, they might have a claim against the manufacturer or seller of the equipment.
- Third-party construction accidents. Construction-related accidents are among the most common causes of work-related injuries, and construction sites often have multiple subcontractors working together. If a roofer, electrician, or carpenter is injured because a contractor on the site (who was not their employer) was negligent, they could sue the contractor for damages.
- Dog bites. Animals are always a threat to workers whose jobs require them to enter people’s yards or homes. If a worker is bitten and the animal’s owner has a homeowners policy that covers dog bites, the worker could sue for damages.
Most people filing a personal injury lawsuit will hire a lawyer to represent them. These cases can take a long time to resolve.
Timing of Workers’ Comp Benefits vs. a Personal Injury Claim
Generally, workers’ comp claims can be allowed and even settled much faster than personal injury claims, which could go to civil court. Whether you have a potential personal injury claim or not, you will file for workers’ comp and should have a decision within a month. Personal injury claims can take many months or even years to settle.
Never fear, however. The BWC has a long memory and will collect its share of the settlement no matter how long it takes. They will place a lien on the potential settlement, and once they receive notice that the personal injury claim has been resolved, the BWC’s subrogation unit will negotiate the settlement of their lien with the injured worker and the insurance company.