On-the-job accidents are a common cause of injuries that lawyers in our firm see on a regular basis. As most know, workers injured on the job as a rule, are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Workers’ compensation is referred to as an exclusive remedy, meaning that it is often an injured employee’s only option for recovering damages as a result of their accident. Simply put, an employee cannot sue their employer for negligence if they are subject to worker’s compensation, which is a no-fault system. An injured employee will receive benefits for lost wages, medical care and rehabilitation, under workers compensation even if the worker plays some role in causing the injuries.
The no fault system provides a quick and easy remedy for minor on the job injuries. In minor injury cases, or when the employee may have contributed to their accident, it is likely the best remedy and only available option. However, if the on-the-job injury is severe, workers’ compensation benefits will not adequately compensate the injured employee. For this reason, it is important to investigate severe on-the-job injuries and determine if there is a potential for any third party liability. Unfortunately, a troubling trend in employment relationships is illuminating a flaw in the system.
Workers compensation is intended to benefit both the injured employee and the employer. In theory, the system works to the benefit of each party. The injured worker is entitled to lost wages and medical care until they are able to return to work. Because the injured worker doesn’t have to prove fault, the employee receives the benefits quickly. In exchange, employers are assured the injured employee will not sue them for negligence and the only remedy is statutorily limited and capped.
The employer must have workers’ compensation coverage or a self-insurance fund. At the heart of the system is the employee-employer relationship. Workers’ compensation should only apply to those two parties who have agreed to this give and take agreement. However, quite often third parties that are not part of the employer-employee relationship are reaping the benefits of the workers’ compensation system.
In recent years, a troubling trend has emerged in the industrial work setting in Alabama. All too often, industrial plants and other labor intensive businesses are utilizing temporary work agencies, staffing agencies and labor brokers to supply workers. That is instead of hiring full time employees. In such cases the employer would not need to maintain workers’ compensation coverage for the temporary workers. The companies are choosing to hire temporary labor through staffing companies.
Typically, these workers are not given any benefits from the business where they are working. Instead, the temp agency maintains workers’ compensation for the employees. The plant or business pays the staffing company and in turn that company pays the worker. The result of this practice is troubling. Quite often these workers are placed in extremely dangerous jobs and not adequately trained or supervised. Inevitably, these practices can lead to catastrophic injuries.
Even though the plant or business where the employee works is not the injured worker’s employer and does not maintain workers’ compensation on the worker, the employee typically cannot sue for negligence or for fault of any kind. The dual employment doctrine enables the industrial plant to claim the injured worker as their employee after the fact. Despite contracts and documents clearly stating the worker is only the employee of the staffing agency, in the eye of the law the injured worker is an employee of both.
Lawyers in our firm’s Personal Injury & Products Liability Section are seeing this scenario time and time again. The injured worker receives workers’ compensation from the staffing agency, however the business where the worker was injured gets off the hook. In essence, industrial plants can bring on temporary workers, provide no benefits whatsoever, place the laborers in the most dangerous of jobs, injure or kill the employee, pay no workers compensation benefits and maintain protection from negligence law suits.
The workers’ compensation system is intended to be a give-and-take relationship. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, working men and women get the short end of the stick on this bargain. The laborers are getting nothing in return for losing their right to sue for wrongful conduct. Our lawyers continue to fight this trend at every opportunity. Hopefully, we can create needed case law to close this loophole.
If you need more information, contact Evan Allen, a lawyer in our firm’s Personal Injury & Product Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Evan.Allen@beasleyallen.com.
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