Our Virginia personal injury client was working in a central distribution warehouse in the western part of the state when a forklift operator ran over and crushed her foot. The woman we represented had been walking along a path clearly marked as off limits to forklifts, but the equipment operator backed into the walkway without looking.
The injured warehouse worker immediately went to the emergency room, where doctors identified major damage to all the bones in her foot and to all the tendons and ligaments of her ankle. The injuries were so extensive that ER doctors told our client that they could not make surgical repairs and that she should expect to live the rest of her life with a permanent partial disability.
An orthopedic surgeon later confirmed the negative prognosis and further explained to our client that she would need to deal with recurrent, sometimes extreme, pain and numbness in her crushed foot and torn ankle. Specifically, the woman received a diagnosis of complex regional pain syndrome, or CRPS.
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Key Legal Strategy
The injured woman filed a workers’ compensation claim and contacted our Virginia personal injury law to ask if she could pursue separate claims against the negligent forklift operator. State law makes it nearly impossible for an employee to sue her employer following an on-the-job accident, but it turned out that our client and the forklift operator worked for different companies.
This situation gave us the legal right to file what is called a third-party claim against the company that employed the forklift operator. We also made sure our client had a dedicated workers’ comp law firm to assist her with that legal action.
Representatives from the company that employed the forklift operator agreed to settle with the injured woman but offered only a small amount of money. The company’s insurance claims adjusters reasoned that since our client did not undergo surgery, she was not seriously injured.
We countered that argument by gathering and presenting evidence about the seriousness of CRPS. One of the sources we consulted was the AMA Guides® to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment. Even occupational therapists used by the Social Security Disability Insurance program rely on this guide from the American Medical Association to determine whether applicants qualify for federal disability benefits.
We asked our client’s orthopedist to prepare a report that compared her symptoms and functional evaluation results to the ratings for CRPS patients in the AMA guide. We also calculated the amount of wages our client lost while not being able to work at all and how much money she would fail to earn by no longer being able to perform warehouse work.
Following months of back-and-forth negotiations and official notification of our intent to take the case to court despite the earlier agreement, the company that employed the negligent forklift operator settled our client’s disability and lost wages claims for a total of $100,000. This settlement did not include compensation for our client’s past and future medical expenses because her workers’ comp claim was still unresolved. Carving out the medical claims ensured that our client would not find herself in the situation of having to reimburse the workers’ compensation program from the settlement on her third-party claim.
This case highlights the fact that people who suffer injuries on the job do not always need to limit themselves to filing workers’ comp claims. Depending on the circumstances of the on-the-job accident, an injured man or woman could file car insurance, defective product or, as in this case, premises liability claims. Such third-party cases can get complicated, but a knowledgeable and experienced Virginia personal injury lawyer will be willing to work with a deserving client to obtain fair compensation.
Staff: Richard N. Shapiro, staff attorney