Conceptually, there are two ways to consider how horsing around at work affects work injury compensation. First, there’s the issue of eligibility for workers’ comp benefits. When horsing around at work leads to a work accident and injury, does this affect the ability to get workers’ comp benefits? Second, there’s the issue of whether horsing around affects an injured worker’s legal rights to sue other, non-employer parties. Our Pennsylvania & New Jersey work injury lawyers will discuss these two issues in depth below.
In many work accidents cases in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, horseplay can result in an accident. For example, two workers are walking to a break room when one worker playfully pushes the other worker. As a result, the worker falls down and twists their knee. Unfortunately, the injury requires surgical repair and physical therapy.
In this instance, is the injured worker allowed to make a workers’ comp claim? What if we change the example and say that the worker who did the pushing trips over their own feet and becomes injured? Would that worker be allowed to make a workers’ comp claim?
Worker’s Negligence in Workers’ Comp Claims
Under Pennsylvania and New Jersey workers’ comp laws, horsing around does not affect an injured worker’s ability to get workers’ comp benefits. This applies regardless of whether the worker was injured due to their own horseplay or another worker’s horseplay. So, in the example above, the injured worker who was pushed would be able to get workers’ comp benefits. In addition, if the worker who did the pushing was injured, they would also be able to get comp benefits.
It’s important to note that eligibility for workers’ comp benefits in either Pennsylvania or New Jersey will be limited if the worker was under the influence of drugs or alcohol when the accident happened. Using the same example above, let’s say that the worker who got pushed was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident. In this instance, the worker would not be eligible for workers’ comp benefits.
Worker’s Negligence (Comparative Negligence) in Work Injury Lawsuits
When it comes to legal claims other than workers’ comp benefits, injured workers in Pennsylvania or New Jersey can seek compensation from other, non-employer parties. Lawsuits are often filed against third party contractors, property owners and even maintenance companies which may be held liable for a work accident. These types of lawsuits don’t depend on workers’ comp claims. In fact, they are completely separate and don’t influence each other from the standpoint of filing lawsuits or receiving benefits. In other words, a workers’ comp claim doesn’t have to be filed first or even at all before filing a work injury lawsuits lawsuit, and vice versa.
In work injury lawsuits, negligence of the injured worker (i.e., horseplay) will be relevant because in any personal injury action in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, the plaintiff’s own negligence is compared to the negligence of the at-fault parties. This is known as the comparative negligence or contributory negligence rule.
Both Pennsylvania and New Jersey follow the same rule for comparative negligence. If the plaintiff’s negligence is greater than the negligence of the at-fault parties, the plaintiff cannot recover at all. Essentially, if the plaintiff’s negligence exceeds 50%, there’s no case. However, this also means that the plaintiff is allowed to be negligent in some manner and still recover.
In work injury cases where the injured worker’s own conduct contributed to the accident, the factfinder (judge or jury) will attribute a percentage of liability to the plaintiff. The plaintiff’s financial recovery gets reduced by whatever that percentage is (assuming it’s not greater than 50%).
Let’s use the example above, where two workers are walking to the break room. Let’s say that both workers are playfully pushing each other. One of the workers doesn’t see that the floor was recently mopped and slips on the wet floor. As a result of the fall, the worker breaks their arm. Investigation shows that the employer contracted out maintenance to a third party company which failed to put up warning signs indicating that the floor was still wet.
Here, the third party maintenance company could be held liable for failing to put up warning signs. In addition, the worker’s own negligence would be relevant and assessed. If a jury found that the third party maintenance company was 60% liable and the plaintiff was 40% liable, the plaintiff would still be able to recover. If the jury awarded $100,000, the plaintiff’s recovery would be cut by 40%. Hence, the plaintiff would receive $60,000. If the jury found that the plaintiff was 60% liable and the third party maintenance company was 40% liable, the plaintiff gets nothing.
For more info, visit the Pennsylvania & New Jersey Work Injury Law Library.
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