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Filing a Third-Party Claim After a Work Injury 

Ellis & Thomas, PLLC Sept. 28, 2022

Most employees in Texas are covered by workers’ compensation, which is a no-fault insurance system that will pay an employee’s medical expenses and provide partial compensation for lost wages should the employee be injured or suffer a work-related illness while on the job.  

Under this system, employees cannot sue employers or co-workers for whatever they’ve suffered, and vice versa, but it is possible to file a third-party lawsuit if someone from outside the immediate workplace caused the injury or illness through negligence. This negligence could take the form of piece of equipment or machinery that malfunctions because of a design or safety instruction defect, or perhaps it’s an injury due to the negligence of an individual.  

Third-party liability is particularly prevalent in the construction industry, where multiple subcontractors routinely carry out various tasks simultaneously on the same site. A driver of a construction vehicle, for instance, may run into and injure someone working for a different subcontractor. That could be a third-party act of negligence. 

If you have been injured or fallen ill because of workplace conditions or a workplace accident and need to explore the possibility of a third-party claim in or around Houston, Texas, contact the personal injury attorneys at Ellis & Thomas, PLLC. We are familiar with the legal intersection of workers’ compensation and third-party liability claims and can help you navigate the system to pursue financial compensation.  

From our office in Houston, we proudly serve clients throughout the counties of Harris, Fort Bend, Montgomery, Brazoria, and the rest of Texas. 

Common Workplace Injuries in Texas 

Unfortunately, mishaps and injuries occur in the course of operating a business. For this reason, workers’ compensation was instituted to shield both employer and employees from endless lawsuits blaming one another for something that happened. Workers’ compensation will generally take care of medical and treatment expenses, as well as compensate (in part) for any wages lost due to time off for recovery from injuries. 

The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), which enforces the nation’s health and safety laws and regulations, fields reports from employees about accidents at work. Topping the list every year are slip and fall accidents, which can result from a variety of causes, including greasy or wet surfaces, protruding items or loose flooring, and even faulty or misused ladders and stairways. 

Other injuries can occur when employees do not wear adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) while performing dangerous tasks, either from lack of training or from outdated and/or inadequate equipment provided by the employer. Chemicals used in the workplace can also lead to injuries and illnesses if the proper respiratory protection is not used or provided. 

Even though the employer may be fined, sanctioned, or otherwise reprimanded by OSHA for not enforcing proper health and safety standards, workplace injuries and illnesses are still covered liability-wise by workers’ compensation. 

Outside of the construction industry, where people working for different subcontractors interact on a daily basis, third-party liability will often stem from a piece of equipment or machinery used in the workplace. 

Third-party liability for incidents caused by equipment or machinery can be based on three types of defects—design, manufacturing, and marketing. A design defect means the malfunction of the device being used originated with the design. A manufacturing defect means that, though the design was sound, the manufacturing process resulted in a defect. Marketing defects refer to the equipment or machinery not being supplied or delivered with adequate safety or utilization and handling instructions. 

Reporting a Claim to Workers’ Compensation 

Texas is the lone state in the union that does not mandate all employers to carry workers’ compensation coverage. The Texas Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) estimates that 28 percent of employers do not subscribe to workers’ compensation, which is administered by the state but funded by the employer. Accordingly, you as an employee can indeed sue the employer—known as a non-subscriber—if they offer no workers’ compensation coverage. 

Employers who do participate in workers’ compensation, however, can either contract with a private insurance company or self-insure. Regardless of who is financially liable, employer or insurer, you as a worker who has been injured or fallen ill due to workplace conditions have a 30-day window to report the incident to your employer. That’s the first step. 

The next step is to file a formal claim with the Division of Workers’ Compensation. An attorney can help you with this process and other steps along the way. 

Filing a Third-Party Personal Injury Lawsuit 

If you think you have a third-party claim for your injury or illness, you need to contact an attorney who can advise you if your claim is warranted and, if so, what steps you should take next.  

The advantage of a personal injury lawsuit is that you can receive compensation for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, decreased quality of life, physical impairment or disfigurement, and even loss of consortium (companionship). These are not covered by workers’ compensation, which merely reimburses for medical-related expenses and compensates partially for lost wages. 

According to research conducted by the online resource NOLO, just 4 percent of personal injury lawsuits actually end up going to trial. It is generally in everyone’s interest to settle without the expense and delay of a courtroom trial. However, our team is willing to go to trial on your behalf if necessary. 

Proving Negligence 

Negligence is the key to a third-party claim. You must show (prove) that the other party through an act or omission caused your injury or illness. Whether you’re dealing with an insurance adjuster or a judge and jury, there are four elements you must show to establish negligence: 

  • Duty: The defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff under the circumstances 

  • Breach: The defendant breached that duty by acting in a certain way or failing to act in a certain way 

  • Causation: This breach caused the plaintiff’s injuries 

  • Damages: As a result, the plaintiff incurred compensable losses and damages 

If, for instance, you’re on a construction site and the driver of a crane or other vehicle runs into you, under Texas law anyone operating a vehicle owes a duty of care to keep others safe from harm. If someone designs or manufactures a piece of equipment or machinery, they have an obligation to make sure the device not only operates safely but also that operators are provided with appropriate instructions and safety precautions. 

Legal Advocacy You Can Trust 

It is not always crystal clear that a third party caused your injury or illness. You really need the knowledge and experience of a personal injury/workers’ compensation attorney who can review what happened and examine the various possible causes of your injury. Once it is clear that a third party’s negligence is responsible, we can proceed with a claim against their liability insurance or file a lawsuit to recover compensation. 

If you’ve suffered a workplace injury or illness in or around Houston, Texas, and you suspect a third party could be responsible, contact us immediately at Ellis & Thomas, PLLC. We will give you personalized attention and make sure you’re involved in every step of the process going forward so you never have to question where matters stand.