A recent article from Forbes reported on the 10 deadliest jobs in America. The list includes Alaskan fishing, logging, iron and steel working, and electrical power line installers — to name just a few. These are not all that surprising. They just sound dangerous, and this fact is confirmed by cable television reality shows depicting the risks.
However, the greatest threat to worker safety is just good old-fashioned auto related accidents. Transportation accidents, as a whole, account for 41% of work related deaths. Of these, 58% are highway related.
This is important due to the possible alternatives to recovery available in auto accidents not otherwise available through Worker‘s Compensation benefits.
Worker‘s Compensation Act
Under the Worker‘s Compensation Act, an injured employee, including an employee killed on the job, will typically have only one remedy against the employer. The employee, or in the case of wrongful death, the estate of the deceased employee is limited to recovery against the employer under the Worker‘s Compensation Act.
The remedies under the Worker‘s Compensation Act are offensively insufficient to cover seriously injured workers. This is only worse with workers killed on the job. The Act is geared toward protecting employers no matter what the statutory language suggests. There is little true protection for those workers killed on the job.
Auto Accidents – Other Sources for Recovery
In light of the fact that auto accidents account for a very high percentage of work related deaths, it is important for those whose loved ones have been killed in such an accident understand that there may be other sources of recovery.
Third Party Claims
In case of an auto accident, there is typically another driver involved. If that other driver caused the accident, then the worker‘s estate will have a claim against that driver. Worker‘s Compensation laws do not prevent this recovery.
The same would hold true for claims against any other third parties that may have caused or contributed to the accident. These are far less common than third party negligent drivers but they do come up in a countless variety of ways. It is impossible to name all the possible causes of an auto accident; but perhaps the most common, other than negligent drivers, are defective road conditions and defective vehicles or vehicle parts.
Again, the worker‘s estate is free to pursue claims against any third party responsible for the accident. The limits on recovery under the Worker‘s Compensation Act will not affect recovery against these other parties.
Auto Insurance Issues
Auto insurance issues come up in a variety of ways in any auto accident, including work related accidents. Obviously, the auto liability policies of any negligent drivers would come into play. However, even in the absence of another negligent driver, the worker‘s estate may have potential coverage.
Underinsured and Uninsured Motorist Coverage
As with any auto accident, particularly in New Mexico, which has a very high percentage of uninsured and underinsured drivers, Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist coverage (UM/UIM) is extremely important. In work related auto accidents, there may be a couple of sources of UM/UIM. The estate of a deceased worker should identify each possible avenue for recovery.
The first possible option for UM/UIM will come through the deceased workers own UM/UIM coverage. Just because the worker is not driving his own vehicle does not preclude recovery under his own UM/UIM policies. The topic of UM/UIM coverage is discussed extensively here on this blog as well as on our website. It is important to understand this coverage. It may be all there is beyond the meager recovery allowed under the Worker‘s Compensation Act.
In addition to his own UM/UIM coverage, the worker may be covered under the UM/UIM of the employer. This coverage is not immune from recovery under the Worker‘s Compensation Act. The recovery against the employer‘s UM/UIM, assuming the employer carries this coverage, is limited only by the limits set by the policy.
One thing to keep in mind is that in New Mexico, unlike many other states, stacking of UM/UIM is allowed. This means that all UM/UIM coverage may be combined. For example, if the deceased worker and his family had multiple cars in the household, the coverage for each such vehicle would stack. The same will likely hold true in the absence of policy limitations for the employer‘s UM/UIM.
Explore All Possible Means for Recovery
Unfortunately, the family of a deceased worker will quickly learn that recovery under the Worker‘s Compensation Act is absurdly insufficient in cases of wrongful death. Though no amount of money can compensate a family for the loss of a loved one, there may be possible sources of recovery that can at least take some of the financial strain off of the family.
It is important to understand and identify each possible source. This will often require the assistance of an experienced personal injury attorney.