When you are injured in a work related accident, there are some steps that you can take to protect your right to recover in a third-party liability lawsuit. These include:
- • Report the accident promptly to your employer In order to preserve your right to receive worker’s compensation your employer must receive timely notice of your work accident. Reporting your accident promptly to your employer helps ensure that you receive the Illinois worker’s compensation benefits you are entitled to and helps deflect suspicion in the third party liability suit that your accident was fraudulent.
- • Report the involvement of the third party to your employer When you are reporting your accident to your employer, you should be sure to mention the role that the third party played in causing your accident. If you are required to fill out an accident or incident report, you should also mention that in the accident report. You do not need to be overly detailed, but there should be enough in there that your full account does not look contrived later. For example, if you are a truck driver and you were hurt in a slip and fall accident on oil on the loading dock of a customer and fell from the loading dock, saying, “I fell off the loading dock” sounds very different from a liability perspective than, “I slipped on oil and fell off the loading dock.” You do not need to write a novel, but you should be concise and accurate.
- • Do not give a recorded statement While you should report the accident and be accurate, there is usually little or nothing to be gained from giving a recorded statement to anyone. When the insurance company for the person or company responsible for your injuries learns that you were injured in an accident which might result in a claim, the first thing that an adjuster will do is press you for a recorded statement about the accident and the nature of your injuries. Many third party liability suits involve complex legal issues of which you may not be aware, but the adjuster knows by heart, and you can be sure that you will be asked questions that will torpedo your case. We almost never permit insurance adjusters to take a recorded statement of our clients and when we do, it is only after thorough preparation of the client. If you give a recorded statement flying blind on the issues in your case, that is a recipe for disaster.
- • Seek prompt medical care One thing that sets of a red flag with insurance companies is when there is a substantial gap in between the initial injury and the first time that you sought medical care for injuries from the accident. Their reasoning is that if you were hurt bad enough to ask for compensation, you should be hurt badly enough to see a doctor. While there are a lot of reasons that people do not seek medical care after a work related accident (such as pressure from their employers to avoid having to claim a reportable accident), any gap between the accident and the initial medical care is a potential problem. When you first get medical care, you should be sure to tell clearly the doctor that it is a work-related injury and how it occurred just as you did when you completed the accident report (see above). Any errors in the doctors records about how your injury happened are likely to be repeated in later medical records, so you should be careful to be accurate when recounting what happened to your doctor.
- • Document the details of your injury The more information that you have about your accident, the better off you will be later. Details such as the exact time of the accident, the precise location in a building or job site where the accident happened, or photos of the scene (even off a camera phone) will all be helpful in later proving your case. In construction accidents, job sites change rapidly; in other settings, hazards are fixed rapidly. You may not have an opportunity to get that information later, so if it is possible without jeopardizing your health or the safety of others to get details about what happened, you should do so.
- • Obtain names, addresses, and phone numbers of witnesses Having the testimony of independent witnesses is crucial to the success of many cases. Even if you are being completely honest about that happened, juries tend to look at the testimony of the plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit) with some skepticism – after all, the plaintiff has thousands of dollars to gain by telling a story that favors himself. Independent witness do not always have the same baggage and can resolve the issue of liability in your favor.
- • Preserve important pieces of physical evidence Just as having the names of witnesses can help you prove your third party liability suit, keeping physical evidence that shows that your account of what happened is true can also be crucial in winning your case. For example if you slip and fall on oil and land in it, having the oil-stained clothing is compelling proof of what happened. Also, if there is a broken or damaged piece of equipment, this can help show what caused your injuries also. It is also important to note that if you were injured because of a defective product, it is absolutely crucial to keep the defective product in the same condition as it was at the time of your injury because if the product is altered or destroyed after your injury, this can result in the dismissal of your case. While it is natural to want to throw our or repair a defective product after an accident, the best thing for you to do from the perspective of protecting your legal rights is to take the defective product out of service and store it safely away until it can be examined by experts.