The exclusivity of workers’ compensation and third-party lawsuits

In Illinois, an injured employee may have potential legal claims against third parties other than his or her employer for work-related injury.

Historically, the grand bargain of workers’ compensation is the “agreement” between working people and employers that in exchange for giving up the right to sue employers directly for work-related injuries and diseases, employers will provide workers’ compensation coverage that will pay benefits to injured workers regardless of whose fault the injury or illness was.

In Illinois, it is true that with rare exception, an injured worker may not sue his or her employer and the exclusive remedy vis-à-vis the employer is the filing of a workers’ compensation claim for benefits.

Potentially responsible third parties

Other than the employer, there may be third parties who have potential liability for a worker’s work injury or occupational illness. In addition to filing for workers’ compensation, the worker may file a personal injury lawsuit against parties other than the employer for part or all the harm.

These third-party claims can help workers recover more money than workers’ compensation allows, a help to the employee and his or her family at a difficult time. For example, it may be possible to recover for pain and suffering in a lawsuit that would not be available under workers’ compensation.


Here are some of the kinds of third-party claims that may be available depending on the circumstances:

  • Landlord or property owner: The injury may have occurred on land or in a building that contained a hidden defect or dangerous, unrepaired condition that contributed to the injury.
  • Motor vehicle accidents: The injury may have occurred in a car or truck accident when the worker was driving in the course of employment. Potential defendants may be other negligent drivers or if there was defective equipment that contributed, the manufacturer or seller, or the provider of negligent maintenance or repair. If a dangerous road design or negligent road maintenance contributed to the accident, the parties responsible are potential defendants.
  • Defective equipment: A designer, manufacturer, seller or distributor of dangerous or defective work equipment may be liable if the faulty equipment caused the injury.

An Illinois employer may have a lien on part of a successful third-party lawsuit settlement or award for workers’ compensation benefits, less a contribution toward the workers’ legal fees and costs. An attorney can answer questions about this potential lien against lawsuit proceeds.

The lawyers at Goldfine & Bowles with offices in Peoria, Bloomington and Galesburg represent injured and ill employees in workers’ compensation claims and related third-party lawsuits throughout our region.