If you’ve been injured on the job, the Iowa workers’ compensation system provides benefits for expenses such as medical costs, lost wages, temporary or permanent disability, and other covered expenses. Sometimes, however, these benefits don’t fully compensate you for your injuries. In certain circumstances, it may be possible for you to recover compensation for your injuries from sources other than workers’ comp.

Third-Party Liability Claims

The workers’ compensation system is designed to compensate you in the event that you are injured at work, regardless of who is at fault. However, if someone other than your employer causes your injuries, you may be able to file an insurance claim or initiate a lawsuit against the responsible party.

For example, you are injured in a two-car collision while driving back to the office from a company event. Even if you are at fault, workers’ compensation will likely cover your expenses and compensate you for your injuries (with certain limited exceptions, including being under the influence).

However, if another driver is at fault for the collision, you may properly have a claim against his or her auto insurance or other applicable insurance policies as well as potential legal claims if your damages exceed those policy coverage limits.

Third-party liability claims can also arise against manufacturers or distributors of a hazardous or faulty products that contributed to your injury.

For example, you suffer injuries at work when a drill press malfunctions. Investigations determine that the equipment was faulty due to a manufacturing issue. Even if workers’ compensation reimburses you for your losses, you may file product liability claims against the manufacturers and/or distributors of the drill press equipment.

It’s important to note that if you are successful in a claim or lawsuit against a responsible third party, you may have to pay back your employer or your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier for the benefits that they have paid out on your behalf or allow the employer/carrier to join in the lawsuit and obtain compensation for the cost of the workers’ compensation benefits directly. However, if a third party is liable for your injuries, you may recover amounts above and beyond your workers’ compensation benefits in such a lawsuit that you are entitled to keep.

Lawsuits Against Your Employer

Although generally, you cannot sue your employer for on-the-job injuries, there are certain limited exceptions to this rule.

  • An employee may file a lawsuit for gross negligence if his or her injury was caused by the intentional, reckless, or illegal actions of the employer or its agents. These include criminal actions such as assault, battery, fraud, kidnapping, etc. as well as circumstances that demonstrate an egregiously low standard of care for workplace safety.
  • Employees may also sue employers for non-physical injuries, such as emotional distress, that aren’t within the scope of how the workers’ compensation system values disability compensation.
  • An employee may file a lawsuit for physical and emotional injuries related to instances of harassment or discrimination in the workplace.
  • In certain circumstances, employees may file lawsuits against a company for creating, allowing, or failing to appropriately protect employees from serious hazards in the workplace such as asbestos contamination, pollution, hazardous materials, noise, and other dangerous conditions.

Just like with a lawsuit against a responsible third party, you may have to pay back any benefits your employer or its workers’ compensation insurer paid from any recovery you receive. 

Other Government and Private Benefits

You may be able to collect other benefits from government or private entities for your work-related injury or disability. These could include Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits from the federal Social Security Administration (SSA) if you are severely mentally or physically disabled. While you may be entitled to collect some of these benefits in addition to workers’ compensation benefits, it is important to structure your workers’ compensation settlement appropriately to take SSDI eligibility into account.

If you are eligible or will soon become eligible for Medicare, you will need to ensure that the terms of your workers’ compensation settlement incorporate a “Medicare Set Aside” as part of the agreement. This will help ensure you remain eligible for the Medicare benefits you deserve for healthcare unrelated to your on-the-job injury.

You may also be entitled to union pension benefits, veterans’ administration (VA) benefits, or other private insurance benefits related to your disability status. You should seek the advice of an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to help you determine your benefit eligibility and structure a settlement, file insurance claims, and/or pursue legal action as appropriate to your circumstances to preserve any of these additional benefits.

The skilled attorneys at the Platt Law Firm will help you through the often confusing workers’ compensation system and help you preserve your rights to all the benefits you deserve. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation.

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