If you are injured while on the job, you may find that there are multiple parties who potentially may be liable for your damages. If you were in the course of your employment when you were injured, your employer may be required to pay for your medical expenses and lost wages through your workers’ compensation program because the injuries occurred while you were working. At the same time, if a third party was involved in the accident that caused your injury, for instance if they ran into a vehicle that you were driving for work, they may also have some liability for your injuries. But this does not mean that you can recover from both your employer and the third party. As discussed in a recent court case, if doing so would require you to sue a co-worker or fellow employee, recovery from both may be precluded in Tennessee.
In this recent Tennessee car accident case, C.W. and J.B. were carpooling to work when they were involved in a motor vehicle accident. After the accident occurred, C.W. filed for workers’ compensation benefits from his employer at the time, Progression. Progression did not dispute that the accident and C.W.’s injuries had occurred on the job and paid C.W.’s benefits. Shortly thereafter, C.W. also filed suit against J.B., arguing that J.B.’s negligence in driving the vehicle had caused his injuries. J.B. moved for summary judgment on the claim, arguing that since C.W. had previously asserted that his injuries occurred in the course of his employment, his exclusive remedy was workers’ compensation, and he was precluded from bringing tort claims against J.B. The court granted the motion, finding that C.W. had previously represented that the accident occurred as part of his employment, and, as a result, Tennessee law provided that workers’ compensation was his exclusive remedy. It therefore dismissed the case, and C.W. appealed.
On appeal, C.W. argued that the court erred in concluding that just because he sought workers’ compensation benefits he was precluded from filing separate tort claims. Under Tennessee law, the right to receive workers’ compensation benefits excludes a plaintiff from other claims for injury. However, Tennessee law also provides that when a worker recovers against a third party, an employer may recover for costs paid through workers’ compensation. Reviewing the case law, the Court of Appeals noted that workers may sometimes be permitted to recover against entirely separate third parties for their injuries, but employers may be reimbursed for expenses they have paid. However, these third parties do not include other employees, who are, in fact, a part of the “employment” and fall within the scope of workers’ compensation. If a co-employee caused the accident, it is the employer that will be liable, but the employer is already liable under the workers’ compensation scheme. Thus, the dual claims against the employer cannot succeed.