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Be Mindful of Workers’ Compensation Lien on Third-Party Settlements and Verdicts

If you are injured on-the-job, you are probably aware that you can seek no-fault benefits through your employer’s workers compensation insurer. But there is also the possibility, if another party was responsible in whole or in part in causing the accident, that you can pursue compensation from that individual or company (the third party). This moves forward as would any other Florida personal injury lawsuit, but with one important distinction: Your workers’ compensation insurer can impose a lien on whatever damages you collect for benefits they have already paid. The purpose is to avoid double recovery by the plaintiff. 

In other words, you cannot collect damages for medical bills from the negligent third party that have already been paid by the workers’ compensation insurer. However, this doesn’t mean the defendant should be off the hook for paying those damages. It means rather the workers’ compensation insurer has grounds to seek a lien on those sums.

This is one of the reasons why individuals who file personal injury lawsuits after collecting workers’ compensation need to have a fierce legal advocate in their corner. 

Recently, an appellate court in California had to deal with this very issue. Plaintiff was injured on-the-job, collected workers’ compensation benefits for lost wages and medical bills and subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit against the owner of the building were the injury occurred. In her initial complaint, she asserted a claim to lost wages. However, when it came to the trial, her attorney didn’t actually make a case for lost wages, and while she was successful in winning, the jury never awarded lost wages because plaintiff had never asked for them.

The question before the California Court of Appeals, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three, was whether workers’ compensation insurer had a right to stake a claim on the lost wages benefits it had paid to plaintiff when plaintiff never collected them.

As our Orlando injury attorneys can explain, typically if a plaintiff is not awarded certain damages, the workers’ compensation insurer can’t impose a lien on them. It would be unfair to ask plaintiff to cover the cost of something she didn’t cause. However in this case, the appellate panel reasoned, plaintiff wasn’t awarded the damages because she never sought them. That was a choice (or an oversight, perhaps) but one that is distinct from a jury weighing the evidence and choosing not to award it.

In this case, plaintiff was awarded $152,000 in workers’ compensation benefits, of which $37,000 was for temporary disability lost wages. When her third-party liability lawsuit went to trial, defendant property owner was found 100 percent at-fault (it was a slip-and-fall case), and was ordered to pay $355,000, which did not include anything for lost wages. Defendant sought a lien for both the medical bills it paid ($152,000) plus the $37,000 in lost wages. Plaintiff argued she should not have to pay the $37,000 when she never received it. However, the appellate court sided with defendant on this issue, finding that was not seeking more from employee than she could have received at trial, but for her choice not to pursue the lost wages claim.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Duncan v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Dec. 13, 2017, California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three

More Blog Entries:

Landowner May be Liable for Crash Injuries – But Only in Some Circumstances, Nov. 30, 2017, Orlando Work Injury Attorney Blog

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