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Can Workers Pursue Claims Against Third Parties for Injuries Sustained While on the Job?

If you were seriously injured while working on the job, your legal remedies for recovery are generally limited by the workers compensation benefits provided under Hawaii’s Workers Compensation laws. Hawaii Revised Statutes §§ 386-5 & 386-8. Under Hawaii’s Workers Compensation laws, your employer is required to provide worker compensation benefits, which may include 2/3s of your wages while you are disabled as a result of the work related injury, your medical expenses, and a limited lump sum amount for any permanent injuries you may suffer.

Workers compensation benefits are generally paid to a worker regardless of whether or not a worker was at fault for causing his or her own injuries (unless the injuries were caused by a worker’s willful conduct, intoxication, physical alteration, or the worker suffered mental stress resulting solely from disciplinary action taken in good faith by his or her employer).  Hawaii Revised Statutes § 386-3.

However, workers compensation benefits are limited in comparison to other remedies available under tort law. For example, workers compensation benefits are not intended to compensate an employee for his or her pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, or the full amount of that person’s loss wages that he/she suffered as a result of the work related injury.  Nor does workers compensation provide for possible punitive damages that may be awardable to an injured worker should the responsible third party’s conduct constitute willful, wanton, or reckless conduct.

Third Party Liability

Can an employee and his/her dependents pursue claims for his/her work related injuries or death against a responsible third party? The answer is yes.

One example is if you were injured (or suffered fatal injuries) in an automobile or truck accident that occurred while you were working and that accident was caused by the negligence or reckless conduct of a third party (not the person’s employer). You have the right to pursue a claim against that responsible third party for your medical expenses, loss income, your pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of your life caused as a result of the accident. However, in the event you do make a recovery for your damages against a responsible third party, you will be required to reimburse your employer for amounts in workers compensation benefits that were paid on your behalf less your attorney’s fees and costs incurred to obtain the recovery against the responsible third party. Hawaii Revised Statutes § 386-8; Alvarado v. Kiewit Pacific Co., 92 Hawai’i 515, 993 P.2d 549 (2000). In addition, in a third party action, your spouse may pursue her own claims for her loss of consortium that was caused as a result your work related physical injuries.

Another example is if a worker’s death or injuries were caused by another employee of the same employer.. if the personal injury or death is caused by the co-employee’s willful or wanton misconduct. Hawaii Revised Statutes § 386-8. The injured worker or his or her dependents would not be required to prove that the co-employee’s misconduct was specifically intended to cause the worker injury or death. Iddings v. Mee-Lee, 82 Hawai’i 1, 929 P.2d 263 (1996) (“the term ‘willful and wanton misconduct’ as used in HRS § 386-8, includes conduct that is either: (1) motivated by an actual intent to cause injury; or (2) committed in circumstances indicating that the injuring employee (a) has knowledge of the peril to be apprehended, (b) has knowledge that injury is a probable, as opposed to a possible, result of the danger, and (c) consciously fails to avoid the peril.”) Under our Hawaii Supreme Court’s ruling, would a co-employee’s/employer’s failure to regularly inspect and maintain brakes on a company truck that caused injury or death to a worker constitute “willful and wanton” misconduct under the law? The answer is yes but of course it depends on the facts and circumstances of each case.

If a co-employee’s misconduct was “willful, wanton, or reckless”, you and/or your dependents may pursue all tort remedies available under the law, including damages for past and future medical expenses, loss income, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, as well as punitive damages against the co-employee and the employer for the worker’s injuries or death that was caused by the co-employee’s willful, wanton, or reckless misconduct. Dependents of an injured employee may also pursue their own claims for loss of consortium of the injured employee.

Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer

No matter what your situation is, you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney. Louis P. Mendonca, Attorney at Law, will fight to protect your legal rights.

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