Whenever there's an accident on a construction site, discovering exactly what happened and who is responsible can be a challenge. There are a lot of potentially hazardous things going on, often with numerous companies and their crews on site -- contractors, subcontractors, vendors and others.
That also means that, when a worker is injured on a construction site, there is a fairly good chance he or she has both a workers' compensation claim through their employer and a personal injury claim against someone else on the site.
On Christmas Eve, 2003, a delivery person brought food to a construction site in New York owned by a developer called Seven Thirty One Limited Partnership. While he was there, a sheet of plywood fell on him. His head, back and neck were injured, he was disabled from work, and he developed depression and PTSD.
He applied for and received workers' comp benefits through the restaurant he worked for. While he was disabled, his wife filed a personal injury lawsuit on his behalf against Seven Thirty One, the construction manager and a subcontractor to hold them accountable for the accident and to seek compensation for noneconomic harm such as pain and suffering, which aren't covered under New York workers' compensation law.
The problem is that in 2006, while the personal injury suit was still pending, a workers' compensation administrative law judge found that he had recovered to the extent he was no longer disabled from work, and that decision was largely upheld on appeal.
So, in 2009, the defendants in the personal injury suit asked that court to rule that the injured deliveryman's disability had ended in 2006, based on the workers' comp judge's ruling. In other words, even if the injured man had evidence that his disability continued beyond 2006, he wouldn't be able to present it because the issue had already been decided.
On Thursday, overruling its own 2011 precedent, New York's Appellate Division court ruled in favor of the development company and the other plaintiffs. It decided that the 2006 ruling by the Workers' Compensation Board judge was binding and the deliveryman could not bring it up anew in the personal injury case.
The injured deliveryman can still seek damages for noneconomic harm through the personal injury case.
Source: Thomson Reuters News & Insight, "Workers' compensation ruling binding in personal injury case," Daniel Wiessner, Feb. 14, 2013