Can You File a Personal Injury Lawsuit for a Workplace Accident?
What situations allow a New Mexico worker injured in an on-the-job accident to file a personal injury claim to obtain recovery beyond what he or she can get under workers’ compensation? Read our blog to discover an in-depth answer to this complex issue.
Workplace accidents producing serious injuries continue to be a real danger for around 800,000 people representing New Mexico’s full-time workforce and a serious concern for employers. Despite precautions as well as state and national regulations, thousands of people get injured on the job every year. In 2016, New Mexican employers reported 5,000 workplace accidents that led to nearly 17,000 work-related injuries and illnesses. Sadly, these accidents also resulted in 41 on-the-job deaths.
However, even less serious on-the-job accidents can have a lasting negative effect on the worker’s budget and financial stability. Workplace injuries often result in days or weeks off work, causing financial losses compounded by the cost of injury treatment and rehabilitation.
To offset such losses, employers in New Mexico and other states are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ compensation is designed to cover the costs of medical bills, lost wages, and disability resulting from an injury or illness that took place within the course and scope of employment.
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault compensation system. This means that an injured worker is eligible to obtain workers’ comp benefits even if he or she was at fault in the accident that caused the injuries. On the other hand, it also means that an employee covered by a work comp insurance policy cannot file a personal injury lawsuit against the employer even if the accident occurred due to the employer’s negligence.
While workers’ compensation can help injured workers offset the financial impact of their injuries until they recover, the compensation can be insufficient to cover all the needs of the injured party and family. That’s why many workers, whose lives, finances, and abilities have changed after an accident at work, wonder if it is possible to file a personal injury claim in relation to an accident at work. In this article, we will consider three scenarios in which such a claim is possible in the state of New Mexico.
1. Third-Party Liability
One of the most common scenarios allowing an injured worker to file a personal injury claim and lawsuit following an on-the-job accident is the involvement of a third party. If another person’s or entity’s negligence contributed to the accident, the victim may initiate a compensation action against the party apart from—and in addition to—the regular workers’ compensation claim.
Examples of accidents where a third party may be liable for a worker’s injuries may include:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Premises liability accidents (that happened while working on someone else’s property, such as slip-and-fall accidents and others related to dangerous property conditions)
- Product liability accidents (caused by defective equipment)
- Accidents caused by negligent contractors
If you have suffered injuries in a workplace accident, it is essential that you carefully analyze all circumstances that led to the mishap to see whether a third party may be liable for your losses.
2. The Employer Doesn’t Hold Workers’ Compensation Insurance
Under New Mexico’s Workers’ Compensation Act, employers with three or more employees are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. If they do, they are protected from liability even if the accident in which an employee was injured was caused by the employer’s negligence.
However, failure to comply with the workers’ compensation insurance requirement waives these protections. This means that if a worker gets injured on the job and the employer is at fault, the injured employee may file a personal injury claim against the employer.
In New Mexico, a worker who got injured in a workplace accident is required to notify the employer about the mishap within 15 days. Then the employer has another 10 days to submit a report of the injury to the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Administration. The employer must also provide the injured worker with the details of the insurance provider.
If your employer is uncooperative with regard to any of these steps, it may be a reason to suspect that the company does not, in fact, carry workers’ compensation insurance; thus, your employer may be personally liable for your injuries. In such a situation, it may be wise to contact an attorney and ask for advice.
3. Employer’s Gross Negligence
The last exceptional circumstance that may allow an injured worker to file a personal injury claim against the employer is often called the Delgado exception. This exception refers to situations where an accident was due to an employer’s gross negligence and reckless actions.
The Delgado Exception owes its name to a New Mexico Supreme Court case in which the plaintiffs alleged that a family member died after a supervisor ordered him to perform a task that was “virtually certain to kill or cause him serious bodily injury.”
Clearly, even though workers’ compensation is designed to serve as a protection for a worker injured in an on-the-job accident, it may also limit the actual amount of compensation a victim may be able to obtain. Therefore, you should contact a lawyer experienced in handling workplace accident cases if you have been injured on the job.
Consulting with an independent attorney, you’ll be able to discover whether any of the exceptions we’ve covered in this article may apply to your case and expand your compensation options.