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Q: I was a subcontractor installing drywall in a new building when I tripped over a cable left by the electrical contractor. I fell out of a second-story window, fractured my jaw and shoulder—and lost three teeth. I feel embarrassed about the whole thing. Wi

A:

This is a great question, because it illustrates how even apparently simple Pennsylvania workers’ compensation issues can quickly become complex—and how much the result you get will depend on the specific circumstances of your job and your injury. We’ll even highlight some of the essential issues that we meet along the way.

Let’s start out talking about the nature of your job. You say you’re a subcontractor. Are you a one-person business, or do you work for a company that also employs other people? If you have an employee and employer relationship with someone, then that company almost assuredly is required to provide workers’ compensation coverage for its employees when they’re functioning as contractors in Pennsylvania. If you’re the owner and sole worker for your drywall business, then you may not have purchased workers’ compensation insurance.

Here’s the next complication: sometimes people who are truly employees are deliberately misclassified as independent contractors. Their bosses do this to simplify their record-keeping, to cut expenses, and to avoid paying for full wages and benefits. For example, if your assignments come from a boss who also controls the schedules of other drywall installer “independent contractors”—or even other specialists in home repair and renovation—then it’s possible you’re entitled to Pennsylvania workers’ compensation coverage as an employee.

Under some circumstances, even if you are a sole business owner, you may be equivalent to an employee for a general contractor. If some, you would deserve workers’ comp benefits for your fall out a window. The question of who counts as a “statutory employee” for contractor work is incredibly complicated. It seems every few months a new appeals court ruling changes the reach of the law a little bit. You will need to work closely with a Pennsylvania workers’ compensation attorney if you believe this part of the law might apply to you.

Going Beyond the Basics: Third-Party Claims

By now, you may have an inkling about whether workers’ comp benefits would be available to you. If they are, you can be assured that workers’ comp will cover your medical and dental costs that derive from your accident. However, there is another possibility for your case: a third-party claim.

Pennsylvania workers’ compensation makes your employer and coworkers immune to lawsuits if their irresponsible behavior in the workplace ends up hurting you. Workers’ comp doesn’t give any similar immunity to people you’re working with casually. If you have been injured at work because a contractor acted negligently or maliciously, you may have a valid legal claim against that contractor, his company, or both.

In your case, you tripped and fell because of a power cable not properly secured by an electrical contractor. Assuming that you and the electrical worker were not both employees of the same employer, you could pursue a lawsuit against the electrician and his employer for the damages you suffered. Often, it’s even possible to collect both damages and workers’ compensation benefits in Pennsylvania for a single injury. You will be permitted to keep compensation for recovery areas that do not overlap; for example, lawsuit damages for pain and suffering—not reimbursed by workers’ comp—or income loss beyond the portion that workers’ comp pays.

Clarity Instead of Confusion

This brief introduction shows only a few of the many possibilities that a simple workplace fall can open up. To get a complete perspective on your case or to have your specific questions answered, you will want to schedule a meeting with one of our Harrisburg workplace injury lawyers. Schmidt Kramer offers FREE initial consultations: use the contact form on this page or call 717-888-8888 (or 888-476-0807 toll-free) to set up your appointment. Just for calling, we’d be happy to send you a free copy of our brief client report, Who Pays the Bills When You Are Injured at Work?

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