Who Can Sue?

courtroom sketchIf you cause another person injury, even if the person harmed doesn’t want to press charges, you still may be on the hook if their insurance company wants to come after you. Or at least that’s what Liberty Mutual tried to prove in this comp case out of PA.

In front of the state’s Supreme Court, they argued that they can act on behalf of the employee if they want to pursue a suit against the “tortfeasor” (buzzword of the case- meaning pretty much the party who did wrong). They claimed since they’re still losing money on the claim the employer (the alleged tortfeasor) should have some sort of consequence and not be able to just get off the hook since their injured employee did not want to press charges.

George Lawrence was the employee of Schneider National Inc. and fell in the parking lot while he was working. He claimed his benefits, Liberty Mutual was the insurer to his employer, but then after they had paid Lawrence his work comp benefits they turned around and sued the owners of the parking lot for negligence in the upkeep of the lot. The initial trial court agreed that Liberty Mutual could not come after them if the worker had not sued on his own, and Liberty Mutual objected, bring the case to a higher court.

But the supreme court judges shut them down, saying that the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act does not give them a cause of action in place of an employee- “splitting the cause of action” they called it. They say the act is in place to try and stop employers or other tortfeasors from getting slammed in multiple lawsuits. The attorney for the defendant said that if the courts had sided with Liberty Mutual, there would be no precedent to stop insurance companies from offering bare bones coverage upfront and then pursuing action to get their money back before the injured employee could file a suit.

Insurance companies are looking at this outcome as devastating, while others think it is a positive outcome to prevent insurance companies from unfairly trying to get back money they have paid to injured workers. What do you think?

What's your take? Continue the discussion with others over at the WCInsights LinkedIn Group.
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