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Case affects workers' comp claimants filing personal injury suits

When a worker is injured on the job, he or she may generally seek compensation associated with the injury in two ways. First, a workers' compensation claim may be filed. Second, a personal injury suit may be filed if negligence on behalf of the employer or related parties contributed to the injury. However, the New York Court of Appeals recently narrowed the instances in which a worker can pursue both kinds of claims.

Specifically, the court ruled that if an issue is definitively ruled on in a workers' compensation proceeding, it may not be litigated in a personal injury case. This means that personal injury claims related to worker injury may only be pursued in relation to issues not decided during workers' compensation proceedings.

The case that inspired the court's ruling involved a man who had pursued a workers' compensation claim in which the judge ruled that he was no longer technically disabled. Because finding of fact had informed this decision, the man could pursue an appeal, but could not retry the finding of fact in a personal injury suit. Rather, the binding nature of the workers' compensation proceeding informs the possibility of a personal injury proceeding.

This area of law is particularly complex, given that injured workers must navigate both the rules of workers' compensation law as well as personal injury law. For this reason, it is particularly critical that injured workers seek experienced counsel. Failure to successfully navigate one kind of proceeding may impact the ability of workers to pursue another.

Source: Thomson Reuters News & Insight, "Workers' compensation ruling binding in personal injury case," Daniel Wiessner, Feb. 14, 2013

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