Many people travel for work at some point. There are millions of motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. every year, and so a good number of accidents occur when at least one individual is on-the-job.
For these individuals, there may be more than one avenue of compensation to pursue. For example, both workers’ compensation benefits and personal injury protection (PIP) insurance are no-fault benefits. That means even the driver who is at-fault can collect on these benefits, assuming he or she was engaged in work-related activity and was properly covered by both forms of insurance. For a person who was not at-fault, not only are those benefits available, there may also be opportunity to pursue third-party litigation if crash-related injury costs exceed $10,000 (which is the minimum PIP coverage required by Florida law).
When a person has both a work-related claim and a third-party claim, the cases may potentially overlap and there could be some complications. An experienced attorney can help you deftly navigate these issues and avoid certain pitfalls, particularly when it comes to subrogation and evidence in one action being used in another.
An example of how these cases might interact was recently seen in the Montana Supreme Court case of Reese v. Stanton. Although Montana law may vary slightly, the same general principles are applicable.
Plaintiff, while in the course of her employment at a coffee company, was a passenger in a van that was struck by a bus owned by a private school bus service. As a result of that bus accident, plaintiff sustained personal injuries.
She first filed a workers’ compensation claim. This is not unusual because these no-fault claims tend to be more quickly processed, and one doesn’t need to prove fault to obtain them. Although they won’t cover pain and suffering, they will cover reasonable medical expenses and a portion of any lost wages.
Still, employers and insurers carefully vet ongoing payments with regard to causation of injuries, reasonableness of medical expenses and the extent and ongoing nature of those injuries and the effect on one’s ability to work. In this case, although benefits were initially awarded, the insurer challenged ongoing benefits through a series of “independent medical exams” and reports from vocational experts. This panel (which, mind you, is paid for by the insurance company) concluded plaintiff could return to work with no restrictions and had not suffered severe, permanent injury.
Subsequently, plaintiff filed a third-party lawsuit against the driver of the bus and the driver’s employer. She sought payment for medical bills, lost wages and loss of earning capacity. The judge granted summary judgment to plaintiff on the issue of liability; there was no question the bus driver was at-fault for the crash. The issues that would be litigated at trial were the causation of plaintiff’s injuries and damages.
Over plaintiff objections, trial court allowed into evidence the workers’ compensation panel report, indicating plaintiff was not seriously injured and could return to work. The primary reason plaintiff objected was because none of those experts cited in the report were called to testify in this case. That meant she did not have the opportunity to cross-examine them, and therefore, those reports amounted to hearsay.
Plaintiff presented her own expert witness testimony from a doctor and a vocational expert who opined she was seriously injured and that those injuries were long-lasting and had impacted her ability to work in a similar capacity.
Jurors decided the case in favor of plaintiff for $60,000. But this was far less than what plaintiff sought. Her medical bills alone exceeded $90,000. She sought a new trial on grounds trial court had improperly allowed evidence from the workers’ compensation case into this trial.
The Montana Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding trial court abused its discretion by admitting the opinions and reports of doctors and other experts who never testified at trial.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Reese v. Stanton, Oct. 13, 2015, Montana Supreme Court