Injury at Work Additional Compensation from a Third Party
Labor Code section 3852 makes clear that the existence of workers' compensation benefits does not preclude an injured employee from suing a third party who causes his or her injuries.
In addition, "any employer who pays, or becomes obligated to pay compensation, or who pays, or becomes obligated to pay salary in lieu of compensation, or who pays or becomes obligated to pay an amount to the Department of Industrial Relations . . . may likewise make a claim or bring an action against the third person." ( Lab. Code, 3852.)
The employer may recover "in addition to the total amount of compensation, damages for which he or she was liable including all salary, wage, pension, or other emolument paid to the employee or to his or her dependents." (Ibid.)
It is clear under these Labor Code provisions that a worker injured in the course and scope of his employment by the negligence of a third party may seek benefits under his employer's workers' compensation insurance and, at the same time, pursue a negligence claim against a third party who caused or contributed to the injury.
Double recovery is disfavored, however, and various provisions of the Labor Code seek to ensure that the employer (defined to include the insurance carrier under Lab. Code, 3850) will be reimbursed for amounts paid to the injured employee which the employee has also recovered from a third party tortfeasor.
"An employer who has paid workers' compensation benefits to an injured employee has the right to be reimbursed for the sums paid and for certain other expenditures, except to the extent that fault attributable to the employer caused the worker's civil damages. ( Lab. Code, 3852.)" (Southern Cal. Edison Co. v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (1997) 58 Cal. App. 4th 766, 769 68 Cal. Rptr. 2d 265.)
Reimbursement can be obtained in three ways:
"(1) by an independent lawsuit against the third party;
(2) by intervention in the injured worker's lawsuit against the third party;
(3) by asserting a lien against the worker's recovery from the third party. ( Lab. Code, 3852, 3853, 3856, subd. (b).)" (Southern Cal. Edison Co., at p. 769; accord, American Home Assurance Co. v. Hagadorn (1996) 48 Cal. App. 4th 1898, 1901-1902 56 Cal. Rptr. 2d 536; Abdala v. Aziz (1992) 3 Cal. App. 4th 369, 374-375 4 Cal. Rptr. 2d 130 "To prevent an employee from retaining both third party damages and workers' compensation benefits for the same injuries and disabilities, the Labor Code permits an employer to recover workers' compensation benefits it has become obligated to pay and/or has paid by (1) bringing an action directly against the tortfeasor ( 3852), (2) joining as a party plaintiff or intervening in an action brought by the employee ( 3853), or (3) allowing the employee to prosecute the action and then applying for a first lien against the resulting judgment or settlement. ( 3856, subd. (b).)