California’s workers’ compensation system is a “no-fault” system. This means that in order to recover wages and medical costs under a workers’ compensation claim, an employee is not required to prove that his or her injury is a result of the employer’s intentional or negligent conduct. In the majority of workers’ compensation cases, there are only two parties to the case: the injured worker and the employer together with the workers’ compensation insurance provider. However, in some cases, there will be a third party involved. There are some cases where the employee’s injury is a result of not simple common work place conditions, but because of the negligent or intentional conduct of a third person. Common examples include faulty equipment or a car accident caused by the negligence of the other driver. In both of those cases, as long as the worker is acting in the course and scope of employment, the injury would be compensable under the workers’ compensation system. However, the inquiry does not end there. Instead, the employer and often the insurance company will bring an action against the third party to recover the costs for wages and medical benefits that had to be paid out to the injured employee as a result of the third party’s conduct. It is important to note, however, that the case against the third party is a separate action from the workers’ compensation case. The workers’ compensation case between the employee and the employer proceeds like normal through the typical workers’ compensation system. The claim against the third party, however, will go through civil court just like any other tort case. It is not uncommon for the employer to need two different attorneys, as one would be familiar with workers’ compensation while the other will be an attorney who focuses on tort cases. Particularly when the third party claim includes a product liability case (such as where equipment is faulty), it is likely an employer will need to hire another attorney for that, as it is a specialized area of law that not all attorneys practice or are familiar with.
We have extensive experience helping our clients understand third party claims in workers’ compensation cases. Call us today to talk about your case.