The details of this case aren’t entirely clear yet, but from what we do know, the case immediately demonstrates a number of very important issues for consumers to understand. Jason Martin of Orlando is suing Carmax Auto Superstores, Inc. for in excess of $15,000.
Mr. Martin is probably suing for much more money but he only has to allege that his damages exceed $15,000 to be filed in Circuit Court. In a case like this, a Plaintiff (Mr. Martin) would much rather be in Circuit Court rather than County Court.
The Facts of the Case
Martin was working as a contractor for a plumbing company at the time of the incident. He was removing a sewer cap when a Carmax employee drove into or over him. According to Florida law, since Martin was in the course and scope of his employment, he would immediately look toward his worker’s compensation benefits for his medical bills and lost wages.
The worker’s compensation benefits would be primary before any other type of medical insurance would kick in. This would seem like a very simple case on the surface. But, there is a twist in this case that is extremely important.
The difference, in this case, is that there was a third party ‘tortfeasor’ [ˈtôrtˌfēzər,-zôr/] (that’s lawyer talk for a third party who caused Martin’s injuries). In other words, if Martin fell in the hole on his own, he would only qualify for worker’s compensation insurance benefits to compensate him.
But, since there was a third party tortfeasor, Martin has the right to make a claim against the third party for his damages. Martin alleges in his lawsuit that he sustained permanent damages, mental anguish, and a plethora of other injuries. He also missed work on account of those injuries.
I know what you are thinking. You are saying -- wait a minute! How can Martin sue the Carmax employee and/or Carmax when he has already been compensated for his injuries by worker’s compensation insurance.
In Florida, auto accident attorneys, like myself, can sue a third-party tortfeasor for causing injuries to someone in the course and scope of their employment. Why? Believe it or not, this happens all the time, and if you think about it, it kind of makes sense.
Why should the worker’s compensation insurance company have to pay benefits to the covered employees as a result of someone else’s negligence?
Florida law allows the injured party to seek compensation from the negligent party for all of their damages (Remember worker’s compensation benefits are limited), and, if successful, the injured party takes all or a portion of the compensation and reimburses the worker’s compensation insurance company for the benefits that they paid to the employee.
Getting back to the story will help make sense of this case. Martin claims that the Carmax employee driving the vehicle acted recklessly and that the incident was the fault of the Carmax corporation. Since the driver was employed by Carmax during the time of the incident and the car was owned and maintained by Carmax, it could be the fault of the company.
- Scenario #1: Martin wins at trial. The jury finds that the Carmax employee was negligent and that Carmax is responsible for Martin’s injuries: If a jury finds that Martin’s injuries are $300,000 (for example) and that Carmax was responsible for its employees' negligence, Carmax would pay that money to Martin’s attorney and Martin’s attorney would have to negotiate a settlement with the worker’s compensation insurance company. In other words, Martin would not get to keep the full $300,000. He would use a portion of that money to pay back the worker’s compensation lien.
- Scenario #2: Martin loses at trial. The jury finds that the Carmax employee was not negligent and therefore Carmax is not responsible for Martin’s injuries: If the jury doesn’t believe that Carmax and its employee did anything wrong and that Martin was completely at fault for his injuries, Martin will walk away from the trial with nothing and the worker’s compensation insurance would not get paid back.
An Interesting Case
If you are operating a vehicle owned by your employer or are doing something in the course and scope of your employment and you are injured by a negligent third party, you may have a personal injury claim against the tortfeasor. You would still be entitled to your company’s worker’s compensation benefits, but you could also bring the third party claim for all of your damages. We can help with that.
Putting the legal issues and the insurance issues aside, this is a case that makes you shake your head and say: What was the Carmax driver doing or thinking before he ran over the contractor? Why did this incident happen? Was the driver impaired or on his cell phone? It is hard to tell from the details released in the news so far, but this will be an interesting case to watch.
In the meantime, if you work on sewer covers or operate vehicles regularly, please be careful. Accidents, no matter how bizarre, do happen.