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Yes, You Can Sue Outside Workers’ Comp for a Fall Injury on the Job

Posted Scott B. Cooper on Feb 22, 2014 in Workers' Compensation

Three Views of Workplace Falls

  • A reference librarian needs a book from the top shelf of the west archives. She doesn’t notice that the rubber tread of the ladder is coming loose at one end. As she reaches for the book, the tread gives away, and she tumbles to the marble floor, knocking the ladder on top of her.
  • In another part of the city, the maintenance crew at a midscale hotel have begun sprucing up the building after the damages of winter. One of the team members is using the power lift to clean out the vents of the heating and air conditioning units under the third-floor windows. He’s wearing a safety harness, of course—but he doesn’t know that equipment was recalled as defective eight months earlier. When the harness fails, the worker falls out of the lift basket and onto the trees below.
  • At the same time, a subcontractor has just begun to work on painting the lobby ceiling at City Hall as part of a massive renovation project. Unfortunately, the general contractor for the project didn’t check to make sure his workers assembled the painting scaffold correctly—they didn’t. When the scaffold collapses, the painter falls and lands headfirst on the floor.

If you have been hurt while at work, you’ve probably heard that the only recovery you can seek is money from the workers’ compensation program. That’s a handy rule of thumb that applies in most cases—but not always. Sometimes, as we will see from the examples described above, a workplace fall lawsuit is both possible and the better choice for your recovery.

Falls From Heights and Third-Party Lawsuits

Workers’ compensation in Pennsylvania is a government-mandated agreement between employees and employers. In order to maintain harmonious relations between labor and management, the state government has forbidden most personal injury lawsuits between them for accidents that happen in the course of business. The employer will pay for the damage incurred; the employee will give up his chance to take the case to court and demand compensation for pain and suffering. Each side forfeits a little of its usual legal rights in order to get a quick and certain resolution.

But this deal only extends to workers and their bosses. There is rule in the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law to forbid third-party lawsuits for workplace injuries.

This means that librarians who are hurt because of defective ladders retain their right to sue the manufacturers of the ladder for their injuries. When a defective safety harness fails, the hotel maintenance worker who falls out of a lift may seek damages from the designer. If a scaffold collapses, a subcontractor may be able to sue the general contractor (who is technically not his employer) for negligence in maintaining safe conditions on the jobsite.

Falls from heights often involve severe injuries. Although workers’ compensation provides some money for lost wages and permanent disability, those payments are minimal in comparison to the damages that can be obtained through a third-party lawsuit. In addition, of course, workers’ compensation provides no money for pain and suffering, psychological trauma, or punitive damages. A third-party negligence claim for a workplace fall can recoup losses in all those categories. In many cases, it’s possible to collect both workers’ compensation benefits and a third-party settlement and retain money in categories that do not overlap.

Seek Legal Advice Immediately if a Third Party May Be Responsible for Your Workplace Fall

In the aftermath of an injury on the job, it’s easy to get distracted by medical appointments and workers’ compensation paperwork. That’s why you should reach out to a team of Harrisburg workers’ comp attorneys at the earliest possible moment to shift the burden of dealing with the legal complications off your back.

The central Pennsylvania trial lawyers at Schmidt Kramer have over 25 years experience helping our neighbors get the compensation they deserve after a workplace injury. Call us today at 717-888-8888 or 888-476-0807 toll-free to request a copy of our introductory brochure, Who Pays the Bills When You Are Injured at Work? If you have questions after you’ve read it, contact us to set up a free, confidential case review. There is absolutely no risk: we don’t charge legal fees unless we are able to get you a financial recovery for your case.