It doesn’t always feel this way when you’re trying to get your benefits, but the Massachusetts workers’ compensation system is designed to offer a convenient, streamlined process — at least in comparison to filing a personal injury claim. When you file a personal injury claim, you have to prove that someone else caused your injuries through negligence, but you don’t have to prove that your employer did anything wrong before you can collect workers’ compensation benefits. As long as your injury happened in in the course of your employment, you should be covered.
That said, there’s a tradeoff for that convenience. If you collect workers’ compensation benefits after your work injury, you give up the right to sue your employer over the same injury, even if it turns out your injury was caused by someone else’s negligence.
However, you are not necessarily barred from filing a claim against a third party, if someone else was responsible for your injury.
Third-party claim example
It is common in some industries for several companies to have their employees working together for a specific project. For example, a construction site might have multiple contractors working at the same time, all with their own employees.
In such a case, an electrical contracting company may have several technicians working alongside the employees of a carpentry firm. One day, an electrician negligently tests a new power line without warning the carpenters. As a result, one of the carpenters is electrocuted and is hospitalized with burns and other injuries. The carpenter is out of work for a month while he recovers from his injuries. The carpenter collects workers’ compensation benefits to help him with his medical expenses and lost wages.
Because the carpenter collected workers’ compensation benefits through his employer, he cannot also file a personal injury claim against his employer involving the same incident, even if he believes his employer was partly at fault. However, he may file a claim against the electrician, and possibly the electrician’s employer.
Liens and other special considerations
Generally, in a third-party case such as the one in the example above, the injured worker can’t be compensated twice for the same losses. If the carpenter in our example was successful in filing suit against the electrician, his employer’s insurance company would likely put a lien on his recovery. This means that the insurance company would be compensated for the cost of the benefits it paid to the carpenter.
There are some other special procedural considerations for third-party claims. For instance, the injured worker may have to file a petition with the Department of Industrial Accidents before proceeding with a third-party claim.
Still, these claims can be valuable in ensuring that the injured recover all the compensation they deserve after they have suffered an injury at work due to another party’s negligence.