Assume an employee suffers an accidental workplace injury. After collecting benefits under his employer’s workers’ compensation insurance policy, the employee tries to get more money by filing a negligence lawsuit. Can the employer be required to pay the employee for his negligence damages? Maybe. Would the employer’s commercial general liability insurance policy cover this? Maybe not.
Workers’ compensation laws are basically a trade-off. On one hand, employees enjoy the benefit of what is essentially a no-fault compensation system that provides benefits for workplace injuries. In exchange, employees generally give up the right to sue their employers for negligence. So, if our employer is immune from the employee’s negligence lawsuit, what is there to worry about? A Third Party Over action.
A Third Party Over action is a type of action in which an injured employee collects workers’ compensation benefits from the employer and also sues a third party for causing or contributing to the employee’s injury. Then, because of some type of contractual relationship between the third party and the employer, the liability for the employee’s lawsuit is passed back to the employer. Here is an example of a typical Third Party Over action.
John, an employee of Acme, trips on a broken floor tile while at work. Despite collecting benefits under Acme’s workers’ compensation insurance policy, John also sues the owner of the building where Acme’s offices are located because it negligently failed to repair the broken tile. Under Acme’s lease, Acme is contractually required to indemnify the building owner for any claims brought by Acme’s employees. Upon being sued by John, the building owner demands indemnification from Acme pursuant to the lease, and essentially passes the liability for John’s negligence lawsuit back to Acme.
Though state statutes and judicial decisions may provide employers with limited protection in certain situations, Third Party Over actions still pose a significant risk. Employers that have agreed to indemnify a third party for its employees’ lawsuits must find out whether they are insured against the risk. This can be very difficult.
Claims involving injured employees are typically not covered by commercial general liability (CGL) insurance policies. However, a Third Party Over action may be covered by some CGL policies if the employer’s indemnification agreement with the third party meets the policy’s requirements. Other CGL policies may exclude Third Party Over actions altogether. This is why it is important to read both the policy form and the third party indemnification contract very carefully.
Given the complexity of Third Party Over actions, a reputable insurance agent with substantial experience in evaluating and insuring against Third Party Over actions should be consulted.
If you would like to learn more about protecting your organization against Third Party Over actions, please contact us.
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