Occasionally, workers who have been hurt on the job have the option of either filing a claim for workers’ compensation or a personal injury lawsuit. When they have these options, though, the “election of remedies” doctrine prohibits them from benefitting from both, as this would lead to a double payment.
A recent case at the Missouri Court of Appeals is an example.
Workers’ Compensation Award Taken Back from Hurt Worker After Lawsuit Settles
The case, Hood v. Menech, involved a carpenter who was cutting a board with a saw when a piece of a screw in the board flew out and hit him in the eye. The carpenter had been hired by Mr. Menech, but was working on property owned by the Vandalia Area Historical Society (VAHS). The question of which of these parties was the carpenter’s employer was moot, as neither one had workers’ compensation insurance.
Under the version of Missouri Statute 287.220(5) that was in effect at the time of the injury, the lack of workers’ compensation insurance allowed the carpenter to file a claim against the Second Injury Fund. He filed such a claim and, on July 19, 2017, the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission (LIRC) issued a temporary award of $23,226.27, plus an open medical award for future medical care. This amount, however, was not actually paid out by the Second Injury Fund until January 8, 2019.
Meanwhile, though, the carpenter had filed a lawsuit against Mr. Menech and VAHS, claiming that they were negligent by providing an unsafe workplace and that this negligence caused his eye injury. On September 24, 2018, that case settled for $53,000.
In December, 2020, the parties met with an administrative law judge for a final hearing on the workers’ compensation claim. There, the judge ordered the carpenter to reimburse the Second Injury Fund $23,226.27. The LIRC affirmed, and the case went to the appeals court, which also affirmed the judge’s ruling based on the election of remedies doctrine.
The Election of Remedies Doctrine
The election of remedies doctrine is extremely simple: After a workplace accident, you can choose to benefit from either a personal injury lawsuit or from a workers’ compensation claim, but not both. If you could benefit from both, you would receive twice the amount of compensation that you need and deserve.
But there is an important question that the recent Hood case clears up: At what point in the process do injured workers make the election? When a claim begins or ends? Or somewhere in between?
According to earlier cases in Missouri, it is when the hurt worker “receives something of value” in a final judgment. In Hood, that meant that the LIRC’s temporary award of $23,226.27 and future medical care was not a final judgment. Instead, the election was made when the worker settled his personal injury case for $53,000.
Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office in St. Joseph
If you have been hurt at work and find that you can file a workers’ compensation claim and a personal injury lawsuit, it is especially important to have a lawyer on your side. With their representation, you can make informed decisions that maximize your compensation.