Workplace Liability When Third Party is Negligent
When someone is injured on the job, his employer provides workers’ compensation benefits. But what if a third party was negligent? Can the worker also file suit against the third party?
In a recent case, a trucking company entered into an independent contractor agreement with a truck driver to deliver slot machines to a customer. The customer’s employee was injured while helping to unload one of the slot machines from the trailer. The employee was walking down a ramp, backwards, when his foot caught one of the hand truck’s wheels, and he fell off of the ramp onto his back, with the slot machine on top of him.
The employee sued the trucking company for his injuries. He claimed the trucking company’s driver had helped attach the ramp to the trailer, instructed the employee to walk backwards down the ramp while unloading the slot machine, and commented after the accident that the ramp was too steep.
A negligence lawsuit often hinges on whether one person owes a duty of reasonable care to another person — that is to avoid causing him harm. Here, the trucking company’s driver had no obligation or duty to assist the customer’s employee in the assembly of the ramp, or to instruct him about unloading the slot machine from the trailer. However, by his words and actions, the trucking company’s driver may have assumed a duty of reasonable care toward the customer’s employee. A jury could find the trucking company’s driver improperly instructed the customer’s employee to unload the slot machine while walking backward down a too-steep ramp, and failed to warn him about the danger of doing so.