When potential clients come to the office, I look at every case as being unique, even if I have seen the type of injury dozens of times in the past. That’s because the injury IS unique to the person who experiences it.
Not every injury has a claim or lawsuit attached to it. Many years ago I had a fellow who was certain he had a claim against a three-wheel, all terrain vehicle manufacturer because he got hurt when he drove it off a cliff. I asked him “Did you know there was a cliff?” He replied “Yep.” “And you intended to drive it off the cliff?” Again he said “Yep.” I continued “Why do you think the ATV manufacturer is responsible?” He said in all seriousness, “Well their vehicle landed on top of me.”
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system. You need to prove you were injured on the job and need medical treatment for your injuries. It doesn’t matter that you were negligent in causing your injuries.
Let’s take my friend with the ATV. If he was a lineman for the county (my apologies Glen Campbell) and operated an ATV as part of his job, he probably had a claim for benefits. If his next stop for work was below the cliff and he took a “shortcut” over the cliff, he was negligent. But negligence does not preclude workers’ compensation benefits. He acted in “furtherance of his employer’s interests” when he was injured; therefore his claim should be allowed.
Maybe you think he shouldn’t get benefits because he drove off the cliff on purpose. Well, his intent was to get to the next stop faster (stupid doesn’t count against him), not to cause himself injury. The injury was a result of the bad choice; it was not his goal.
If the workers’ comp claim is allowed, as it should be despite this guy’s poor judgment, he could be entitled to medical coverage, time loss compensation, vocational retraining, a permanent partial disability award, or a lifetime pension award if he was never able to return to work because of his injuries. He cannot, however, get payment for pain and suffering. Workers’ comp does not cover those types of special damages.
So let’s go back to Mr. ATV. If he had come to me with the same injuries but had gone over the cliff because a wheel had fallen off the ATV, he may have a third party action (product liability). If this had happened on the job, he would also have been eligible for workers compensation benefits.
Different facts of an injury may mean different potential claims – sometimes workers’ compensation, sometimes personal injury actions, but sometimes no claim at all. So if you are out in the back country for work or for fun, be safe and please don’t intentionally drive off a cliff. We will help you if we can but we can’t work miracles!
Bob Heller has practiced workers compensation law for more than 30 years.