As we've mentioned on this blog before, workers' compensation covers pretty much any injury you suffer while you're performing your ordinary job duties, regardless of whether someone at your company was negligent. The workers' compensation system is basically a tradeoff between the interests of injured workers and those of companies: Essentially, as long as you were hurt at work, you don't have to prove fault in order to obtain compensation. In return, your employer is immune from lawsuits for workplace injuries and illnesses.
The thing is, sometimes people get hurt on the job through the fault of a third party -- someone other than their boss or co-workers. An easy example is a professional driver who gets into an accident with a drunk driver. Yes, that's work-related, so any injuries would be covered by workers' comp, but that shouldn't mean the drunk driver owes nothing, should it?
Of course not. It's a basic assumption of the American legal system that, if someone's negligence or wrongdoing causes you harm, they should compensate you for that harm. And, since the workers' compensation system only prohibits lawsuits against your employer, you can sue a third party who injures you at work.
How common is it for third parties to be responsible for workplace accidents?
It's extremely common, unfortunately. Consider, for example, a situation where a construction worker is seriously injured when a scaffold collapses. This would definitely be a workplace injury so, unless something really weird is going on, it's covered by workers' compensation.
However, a subcontractor may have been brought in especially to set up that scaffolding. If it was set up incorrectly, the construction worker could sue that subcontractor. Or, it may turn out that parts of the structure were faulty due to a manufacturing error. In that case, she could sue the manufacturer o the faulty parts.
As you can probably tell, it's not always obvious who was responsible for an accident. When it comes to your workers' comp claim, it doesn't matter -- but workers' comp might not be the only compensation available. If you've been seriously injured on the job, you owe it to yourself to discuss your options with an experienced workers' compensation lawyer.