What are your options if you should be involved in a car or truck accident while driving to a sales meeting or making a delivery? Who pays to repair or total your car or truck and for your lost wages and medical bills? Your case can get complicated very quickly.
There are multiple sources you can pursue to collect compensation for your damages. In addition to filing on the at-fault driver’s or vehicle owner’s liability insurance policy and your automobile insurance benefits, should you consider filing on your company’s workers’ compensation policy?
How will workers’ compensation affect your claim?
You may have been told that you cannot file against or sue your employer for damages if you were injured on the job. You may be able to but it’s not always a good idea. Here’s why.
Workers’ compensation insurance covers your medical treatment and lost wages without you having to prove fault. In return for the guarantee of a substantially limited pay check, you waive your right to sue your company — even if it were negligent. But what if your service department failed to properly maintain the company truck’s brakes, causing you to crash and get seriously injured?
There are other drawbacks as well. You usually receive less quality medical care. Most “good” doctors refuse to file on “comp” since payments are drastically curtailed and the paperwork and red tape can be onerous.
Further, you will have to reimburse the money you receive for your lost wages and medical bills. This is a legal concept called subrogation authorized in the Texas Labor Code. That means that you will have to pay back the comp carrier for what it paid you up front. So if your net settlement proceeds are $20,000 but the comp company has already paid you $20,000, your “new money” will be zero. Not good, since your initial payments will have already been spent by you or paid to hospitals and doctors.
A good injury lawyer will fight to get that subrogation amount that you owe reduced. We are in the process of finalizing the severe injury case of the man pictured above who was driving his truck for his company when another vehicle failed to yield the right of way. He’s had three surgeries to date. We successfully obtained a huge cut of what he owed to comp after getting him the maximum available under the large insurance policy available.
It is only fair that you should receive additional damages for your pain and suffering, lost wages you forfeited by accepting the lower comp payments, your loss of wage earning capacity, and other damages.
Since Texas is the only state that does not require employers to be part of the system, many companies, including Albertson’s, Kroger, Taco Bell, and Walmart, don’t even subscribe to workers compensation insurance for their employees. When that happens, these non subscriber companies are not allowed to file legal defenses to which they would be entitled, so at least that betters your chances at trial.
An employer who is grossly negligent may be liable for punitive damages
Even if your employer has opted out of the workers’ comp system, it may be liable for injuries caused by its gross negligence. Gross negligence has been defined as the “reckless disregard for the safety or lives of others, which is so great it appears to be a conscious violation of other people’s rights to safety.” An example might be where your boss sends you on a work related errand in a car with severely worn brakes or tires – and he knew that but wanted to save the money. This can be argued by your injury lawyer during settlement negotiations to enhance the amount you can receive. However an award for punitive damages is pretty rare in Texas, especially one that is not reversed on appeal.
How to proceed
You will have a third-party claim against the at-fault driver, even if you recovered workers’ compensation benefits from your employer. In this case, you will proceed just as you would in an accident that happened outside of work. Your personal injury lawyer will take the following steps:
- Investigate the vehicle crash and gather crucial evidence;
- Help you get your vehicle repaired or totaled;
- Help you get the medical treatment you need to recover from your injuries;
- Help you file on all available sources of compensation;
- Send a demand package to the at-fault driver’s insurance company if the case can be resolved out of court;
- Negotiate a favorable settlement for your maximum possible damages;
- Reduce subrogation claims and excessive medical bills and liens; and
- File a lawsuit if and when necessary and take the case to trial.
If you have been injured while driving for your company, you should hire a good lawyer who understands personal injury law and workers compensation benefits. Please contact my office for a free consultation.