Legal Corner

Workers’ Compensation

Privette doctrine protects film studio from personal liability suit – California

In Castro v. ABC Studios Inc., ABC contracted with the owner of a gas station to film a TV show and also hired Executive Assurance (EA) to provide security for the property. On the side of the property was a metal rolling gate weighing about 900 pounds that did not have stops, in violation of Cal OSHA. On the day of the filming, a security guard employed by EA attempted to stop the rolling gate from hitting a truck and the gate fell on her, causing serious injury.

The security guard filed suit against the landowners and ABC, asserting claims for premises liability and negligence. The Court of Appeal for the 2nd District upheld the finding of the lower court that the Privette (1993 decision in Privette v. Superior Court) doctrine applied. Subject to certain exceptions, the Privette doctrine bars employees of independent contractors from suing the hirer of the contractor for workplace injuries.

After ABC was dismissed from the action, a jury found the security guard sustained damages of $2,534,613. The jury allocated 72.5% of fault to the landowners and 27.5% of fault to EA.

Injuries incurred during employer-sponsored bowling event compensable – Florida

In Reynolds v. Anixter Power Solutions, the 1st District Court of Appeal overturned the denial of benefits to an employee who was injured while bowling with co-workers during an employer-sponsored event. While the employer argued the event was an excluded “recreational activity”, the court noted that the event took place during regular work hours and had, as one of its purposes, the discussion of business goals for the upcoming year. Although employees could decline the invitation, this was insufficient to prove the event was voluntary, particularly in light of the goal stated by the employer.

Daunting burden of proof for toxic exposure nixes claim – Florida

In City of Titusville v. Taylor, an appellate court overturned the award of benefits to a city employee who had spent several months working to clear a wooded area and was diagnosed with fungal meningitis. Although a specialist presented testimony that the workplace was the “most likely” source of the fungus, the law requires that occupational causation be proven by clear and convincing evidence. In noting that the employee had failed to meet his burden of proof, the appellate court lamented “the Herculean task created by the heightened burden of proof for toxic exposure claims,” but said this was a matter for the legislature, not the courts.

Stuntman’s estate awarded $8.6 million in civil suit – Georgia

A stuntman died in July 2017 while shooting a scene for the television show, The Walking Dead, in Senoia. While AMC Networks argued that the stuntman was an employee of Stalwart Films, the family argued that he was an independent contractor and the jury agreed. Jurors found AMC Networks’ entity, TWD 8, and its production company, Stalwart Films, negligent, but said AMC Networks was not liable.

Exclusive remedy does not bar class-action suit under Biometric Information Privacy Act – Illinois

In Treadwell v. Power Solutions Int’l, an employee’s putative class action against his employer alleged the use of a fingerprint timekeeping system violated the state Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”). The employee claimed he had been injured by the employer’s interfering with his right to control his biometric data and the employer argued that claims for monetary damages under BIPA are preempted by the exclusive remedy provisions of workers’ comp.

Since the employee had shown that the employer’s actions were intentional, a federal district court found that one of the exclusion provisions of exclusive remedy was met – the injury was not accidental. Further, the court noted that the damages alleged were not the sort contemplated to be compensable under the state’s workers’ comp statute.

Award for amputation insufficient – Indiana

In Senter v. Foremost Fabricators, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals unanimously reversed and remanded a Workers Compensation Board decision, finding that an award of $12,880 was insufficient for a worker who had to have her pinkie finger and part of her hand amputated. The court noted that the Board had read the statute too narrowly and that while she was not entitled to an award for the loss of her entire hand, the Board should have used its discretion to provide a partial award for what was amputated on her hand.

Third-party cannot offset for employer’s fault – Minnesota

In Fish v. Ramler Trucking, an employee suffered injuries while helping to load a concrete beam onto a truck being operated by an employee of another company, Ramler Trucking Inc. He received workers’ comp benefits from his employer and filed a common-law negligence claim against Ramler. A jury allocated 5% of the fault to the employee, 75% to his employer and 20% to Ramler.

Ramler argued that its liability should be limited to its 20% fault. The case made its way to the state Supreme Court, which ruled a third-party tortfeasor’s liability to an injured employee could not be reduced based on an employer’s share of the blame. An employer liable to an injured employee under the Workers’ Compensation Act and a third party liable in tort to the employee do not have common liability, whether joint or several.The benefit was limited to a credit in the amount of the workers’ compensation benefits paid to the injured employee by the employer.

High court says employer entitled to credit for amount paid in vacated settlement – Minnesota

In Block v. Exterior Remodelers Inc., an employee received a $40,000 settlement for a back injury and continuation of medical benefits. Several years later, he experienced pain related to the old injury and required further surgery. His petition to vacate the settlement was granted, but there was a question whether the employer was entitled to a credit for the $40,000 already paid.

The Supreme Court noted the settlement was done properly and an award may be set aside later if the WCCA determines that there is cause to vacate the settlement.

Authorized medical treatment still applies to out-of-state care – Nebraska

In Rogers v. Jack’s Supper Club, a worker injured her back and settled her claim, with the employer agreeing to pay for ongoing medical care. Her “Form 50” physician died and she continued treatment with the doctor’s colleague and received reimbursement. Later, when she moved to Florida the company suggested they agree to a pain management specialist, but she had already chosen one and sought reimbursement for the care she received. The company argued it was not responsible for the medical expenses since it had not approved the physician. Further, it presented evidence that she was being treated with an opioid cocktail, although this was not a factor in the legal determination. The worker argued since the designated physician had died and she moved out of state, she was free to choose her doctor.

While the compensation court approved reimbursement, the Supreme Court disagreed. A new Form 50 physician could be selected either with agreement of the employer or by bringing the matter to the attention of the compensation court.

IME testimony barred based on attempt to influence decision – New York

In Matter of Keller v. Cumberland Farms, an appellate court affirmed a decision by the state Board that precluded the admission of a medical report and testimony by an independent medical examiner (IME). The physician did not turn over to the Board a letter he received from the employee’s attorney before the medical examination and an intake form completed before the examination, which the court found to violate the law.

The worker alleged that he contracted bladder and kidney cancer from years of exposure to carcinogens while working as a diesel mechanic for the employer.

Court finds Workers’ Compensation Board’s 8-page brief limitation unreasonable – New York

In Matter of Daniels v. City of Rochester, an appellate court found that the regulation that authorizes the Workers’ Compensation Board to dismiss an application for review when a brief is longer than eight pages without an adequate explanation is unreasonable,

Proximity of termination to injury claim doesn’t mean retaliation – New York

In Matter of Peterec-Tolino v. Five Star Electric Corp., a three-judge panel of the Supreme Court affirmed a Board’s determination that an electrician was fired about one month after an injury claim for legitimate business actions. The employer had been implementing a furlough replacement program that involved laying off approximately 10 percent of its electricians and had emailed his supervisor several months before the injury suggesting he be laid off for sub-standard performance. The employee also acknowledged that prior to his injury, he was told by an employer’s representative that the employer had contacted his union looking for other qualified workers to replace him.

Surveillance nixes continuation of benefits after 18 years – Pennsylvania

In Jones v. Workers Compensation Appeals Board, a maintenance custodian for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority was seriously injured in 2001. The employer attempted to terminate benefits in 2015 but was denied. In 2018, the employer tried again, submitting surveillance showing the employee, a Jehovah’s Witness, pulling a large suitcase and setting up a display of pamphlets, as well as standing on the street corner and gesturing with his arms and hands without restriction, and other activities involving lifting heavy objects.

In light of the surveillance, the workers compensation judge rejected the employee’s physician’s testimony that his condition demanded restrictions of no lifting over 10 to 15 pounds, no overhead work, no constant turning of the neck, no repetitive use of the arms, and no more than four hours of work per day. A three-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court agreed that he had fully recovered from his injuries.

Two conditions must be proved for benefits – Virginia

In Sorour v. Avalon Transp., the Court of Appeals affirmed the Commission’s denial of a limousine driver’s claim for benefits following a mysterious, one-vehicle accident that occurred while the driver was “on the clock.” While the court noted that the driver had proven his injuries occurred in the scope of his employment, he had not proven that his injuries arose out of his employment.

At the time of the accident, the driver was driving in a company vehicle to the company’s office at the request of his manager and he hit a guardrail on the exit ramp. The driver failed to prove how the accident occurred and, therefore, he did not establish the causal connection between his injury and the conditions under which his employer required the work to be performed.

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