Can I Sue a Co-Worker for Causing a Work-Related Car Accident?
Typically if you are injured in a car accident, you can pursue damages against the negligent driver. But your legal rights may differ when your accident occurs in the course of your employment. Workers’ compensation is the state-mandated system for addressing an employer’s potential liability arising from a job-related accident.
Workers’ compensation provides “no-fault” benefits to you and immunity for your employer. This means that if you are injured in a car accident while traveling for your job, your employer may have to pay workers’ compensation benefits regardless of who was at fault. But in exchange for receiving workers’ compensation benefits, you cannot then turn around and file a personal injury lawsuit against your employer.
Injured Employee Not Entitled to “Best of Both Worlds”
Now, workers’ compensation does not prevent you from seeking damages against a third party who caused a car accident. Workers’ compensation only protects your employer. But what if the person who caused the accident was a co-worker? The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently addressed such a situation.
In this case, the plaintiff and the defendant were co-workers who carpooled together to a job site. The defendant was driving when a car accident occurred that injured the plaintiff. The plaintiff subsequently received workers’ compensation benefits from his employer.
The plaintiff then sued the defendant for negligence. The defendant argued that by accepting workers’ compensation for injuries sustained in the accident, the plaintiff should be barred from suing him for negligence. In other words, the accident occurred in the “scope and course” of the plaintiff’s employment, and the defendant–as a co-worker–was an agent of the employer and not a “third party.”
The Court of Appeals, agreeing with a trial judge’s earlier ruling, sided with the defendant. The appeals court characterized the plaintiff’s position as wanting “the best of both worlds.” But under Tennessee law, he was “limited exclusively to his recovery in workers’ compensation” and could not sue his co-worker “for the same incident.”
Need Legal Advice Following a Knoxville Car Accident?
There is one other point that should be clarified here. Although the facts of this case described the plaintiff and defendant as in a “carpool” at the time of the accident, as a general rule you cannot receive workers’ compensation for simply commuting to and from work. In this particular case, the two employees were paid to commute to a particular work site pursuant to their labor union contract. This brought their carpool under the scope of workers’ compensation.
If you have been injured in a car accident of any kind, it is critical to speak with a qualified Tennessee personal injury lawyer who can advise you of your legal rights. As the case discussed above illustrates, the law can get quite complicated when it comes to personal injury, especially when other factors like workers’ compensation come into play.
Whatever your situation, if you need legal assistance contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, in Knoxville or Clinton today.