Frequently Asked Questions about Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Law

Effect of Workers' Compensation on Medical Malpractice Claims

Were you injured on the job only to have the situation get worse when you received negligent treatment from a physician? It is bad enough that you have been hurt at work, and now you have to deal with a new injury or the aggravation of an injury. As frustrating as this situation is, it could become even more frustrating when you learn that you may not have the right to sue the doctor for malpractice. Sometimes, a medical malpractice claim will be precluded because workers' compensation is the exclusive remedy for the injury and "injury" may include an aggravation of the original problem.

The workers' compensation system is designed to provide the exclusive remedy for workplace injuries. Employees give up the right to sue their employers in exchange for a simple and efficient way to receive medical attention and compensation for lost wages. The question that arises when an employee seeks treatment for a workplace injury and receives getting negligent care is whether or not the subsequent doctor visit is part of the original injury and whether it should be covered by workers' compensation. Generally, it has been held that a subsequent injury, resulting from medical or surgical treatment of the original injury, is covered by workers' compensation if there is no intervening cause to break the chain of causation between the new injury and the original injury.

Sometimes, even when workers' compensation covers the injury that resulted from the doctor's negligence, the employee may still have the right to sue the doctor for malpractice. This will depend on state law. Most states have an exception to the rule that workers compensation is the only remedy. These exceptions allow the employee to sue to certain parties, other than the employer, who have caused or contributed to the injury. Some states allow an employee to get workers' compensation benefits and simultaneously sue a third party. The cases are treated as separate issues and the workers' benefits are not affected since the lawsuit is only related to the aggravation of the injury, not the original injury. Other statutes say that you can sue the doctor for malpractice but you cannot obtain workers' compensation benefits at the same time. In this case, if you are already getting benefits, then you will have to repay the system if you are awarded a monetary award in court.

Even if you have the statutory right to sue a third party you can still face an uphill battle. It may turn out that the physician is not a third-party at all. If the physician works for the same company they may be considered a co-employee. Co-employees are generally immune from suit under the same doctrine that excludes employers from suits. As mentioned earlier, the workers' compensation system is supposed to provide the exclusive remedy for injuries caused by co-employees. Under the dual-capacity theory, however, a physician might be considered a co-employee in some circumstances and third-party in others. For example, a man working at a chiropractor's office is hurt and receives treatment from the chiropractor, his co-worker, and she provides negligent care. In this case, the court may view the treatment as being part of a normal physician-patient relationship and not as a co-worker relationship.

If you think that you may have a medical malpractice claim then you should consult with an attorney to determine whether a workers' compensation would preclude it or not. An attorney can discuss the particular laws in your state and how cases under similar circumstances have been treated.

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