Workers’ Comp from 1st Employer Does Not Bar Suit against 2nd

On behalf of Brown & Crouppen, P.C. posted in Workers’ Compensation on Friday, June 22, 2012

In a close decision, the Missouri Supreme Court recently held that the family of a employee of two companies who was fatally injured on the job can legally pursue a wrongful death claim against one of the employers after receiving workers’ compensation benefits from the other. The state’s top court overruled a lower court’s decision denying the family of the man, a professional truck driver who died in an accident, from seeking more than funeral expenses and death benefits through one employer’s workers’ compensation insurance.

The case centered largely on judicial interpretation of Missouri statute § 287.280.1, which generally requires employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance. The statute says that if an employer fails to have insurance at the time of an employee injury, the employee or his dependents “may elect” to bring a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit against the employer.

The victim in this case was working for a company called R&F trucking, while he had a contract to operate his tractor-trailer through another company called DOT Transportation. DOT had workers’ compensation insurance when the truck driver died, but R&F did not. An administrative judge later found that DOT was the victim’s “statutory employee” for workers’ compensation purposes and ordered the company to pay death benefits and funeral expenses to his family.

The family later filed a wrongful death lawsuit against R&F but the court dismissed the lawsuit on the theory that § 287.280.1 prevents an injured employee or dependents from seeking compensation in civil court against an employer after accepting workers’ compensation benefits from that employer.

But on appeal, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled on a 4-3 vote that the statute does not prevent a lawsuit against a second employer after another employer has paid out benefits. The language of the statute does not prohibit such a claim, the decision said.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Death Claim OK Against Second Employer,” Joe Harris, June 13, 2012

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