Third Party Claims For Workplace Accidents: Beyond Workers’ Comp

In May 2011, Jose Herrera accepted Refined Technologies Incorporated’s offer of seven million dollars to settle Herrera’s lawsuit against the company for injuries Herrera sustained while working as a pipefitter in the Crude and Vacuum unit of Citgo’s East Plant in Corpus Christi, Texas.

On February 22, 2008, Herrera was secured in a safety harness up in scaffolding in preparation for a procedure known as a chemical wash, when a piece of metal called a “nipple,” measuring merely three-quarters of an inch by 17 inches, snapped loose from a heat exchanger and showered Herrera and his fellow worker Aaron Salinas with 550 degree oil.

Salinas was able to escape the area fairly quickly, but Herrera was entangled in his safety harness for several minutes while the scalding oil continued to pour down on him. Eventually another worker cut Herrera free and emergency responders airlifted him to the hospital. Doctors feared that Herrera would not survive, as he had third degree burns covering his head, face, arms and hands.

The Painful & Costly Aftermath

Herrera needed 11 operations as a result of the accident. Doctors had to rebuild his chin by transferring skin from his chest and thighs. Herrera still cannot close his right eye due to scar tissue. Additionally, Herrera has difficulty maintaining a constant body temperature. He says that he is “in pain every minute” and will probably not be able to hold a job in the future, or resume the leisure activities that he used to enjoy, such as fishing with his son and dancing with his wife.

To add to Herrera’s troubles, his medical bills exceeded $200,000 and he was running out of money trying to survive solely on workers’ compensation wage-loss benefits. Texas law prevented Herrera from suing his employer since his employer offered workers’ compensation insurance, in a system similar to that in New York.

Obtaining Damages in a Third-Party Claim

However, Herrera had recourse: he could sue Refined Technologies, the company responsible for designing, installing and maintaining the safety equipment that failed. Herrera brought suit against Refined Technologies, alleging it was negligent in performing its duties, which led to the accident and Herrera’s injury.

New York law has a similar provision, wherein if an employee is injured while on the job by the negligence of a third party – not the employer – the employee may bring suit against that party to recover for his or her injuries. In addition, such a lawsuit may allow the injured worker to recover damages for such things as “pain and suffering” or “emotional distress” that workers’ compensation benefits specifically exclude.

If the fault of some third party resulted in an on-the-job injury for you, do not hesitate to contact an experienced attorney who can discuss the details of your situation with you and help you determine the compensation for which you may be eligible.