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Death on the Job: Claims Against Third Parties

Pennsylvania is no stranger to the risks people take on the job. We’ve seen the results of large-scale industrial disasters, including the Centralia coal mine fire and the 1979 Three Mile Island accident. Pennsylvania workers know that fatal accidents on the job fall just behind traffic collisions on the list of accidental death causes.

By this point, you probably know that when a worker dies from a job-related accident in Pennsylvania, his survivors are eligible to receive death benefits from the state workers’ compensation program. That remains true for nearly all work-related deaths. But families who have gone through this experience know that workers’ compensation benefits aren’t really adequate for the loss of a family member.

In many industrial accident cases, there is an alternative option. Workers’ compensation death benefits are the only form of relief available to a bereaved family when the death of a loved one was caused by his employer, by his coworkers, or by himself. In the many cases when someone else—a third party—committed negligent acts that had deadly consequences, that someone else can be held responsible by filing a wrongful death lawsuit.

Third Party Liability for Fatal Accidents on the Job

There is unlimited variety in the ways a third party can be responsible for a death at someone else’s workplace. Consider these common possibilities:

  • Malfunctioning machinery – When industrial machinery is designed without proper safety in mind or installed improperly, it can malfunction and kill the operator. The designer, manufacturer, or vendor of the machine can be held liable for the resulting deaths.
  • Actions of a contractor – Many complex work projects will have representatives of several companies involved in operations at one time. If your loved one has been crushed by a forklift, struck by a crane, or electrocuted by a power line technician, the subcontractor who worked unsafely or the general contractor who failed to coordinate job site activity can be held responsible.
  • Defective power tools – Roofers and construction workers know that nail guns and power screwdrivers can kill. Defective hand tools can expose workers to deadly electrical currents. Defective power tools can operate at the wrong time, causing deadly wounds or opening the body to fatal infections.
  • Collapsing ladders or scaffolds – Fall injuries are one of the top causes of workplace accident fatalities. Often, poor design of support systems, power lifts, or safety harnesses can mean that these key components fail at a critical moment—and a worker plunges to his death.
  • Homicides – This category includes both deaths caused during robberies or other criminal acts and deaths caused by attacks by former employees, jealous husbands, and other enraged visitors to the workplace.

Why File a Wrongful Death Suit When Workers’ Compensation Death Benefits Are Available?

When a worker is killed on the job, the surviving family members may need to make a choice between accepting the death benefits from workers’ compensation or filing a wrongful death lawsuit against a negligent third party. Workers’ compensation offers less money and restricts the categories for which recovery is available. A third party lawsuit offers more flexibility in obtaining a fair recovery that meets the survivors’ long-term needs.

If your family member was killed in the course of his job, you can rely on the wrongful death attorneys in Harrisburg from Schmidt Kramer to quickly assess your case. If you live in the central Pennsylvania area, call Schmidt Kramer at (717) 888-8888 toll-free to schedule a free, confidential case review. We would also be glad to send you a free copy of our informational brochure, Who Pays the Bills When You Are Injured at Work? at your request.