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W. World Ins. Co. v. Armbruster – Seasonal Worker Deemed “Employee,” Excluded From Tort

Many companies in Georgia and elsewhere employ workers on a part-time, temporary or seasonal basis. State laws vary on the degree of workers’ compensation insurance coverage companies are required to provide for these workers in the event of injury.
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Some states don’t require any coverage at all, while others require companies to carry as much coverage for these workers as they would any other full-time employee. In Georgia, the state requires most employers with three or more workers – including part-time and seasonal employees – to purchase workers’ compensation for those individuals.

There are some exceptions – federal government agencies, railroad carriers, domestic servants and farm laborers.

For those who are not covered, there may be the option of pursuing a tort action for negligence against the company, but that will depend on the circumstances. If a person collects workers’ compensation benefits, it is considered an exclusive remedy, meaning one cannot collect insurance benefits and also pursue a civil lawsuit against the company.

Our Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyers are experienced in helping injured workers determine the category under which they fall, and helping them to pursue the most advantageous legal position.

This question recently arose in the case of W. World Ins. Co. v. Armbruster, where those involved sought a declaratory judgment on the issue of whether a seasonal worker could be covered under the company’s commercial general liability policy. The worker argued she was covered because, as a “temporary worker,” she was not considered an “employee” for purposes of workers’ compensation or as defined under the commercial liability policy. The insurance company argued the opposite – that as a temporary worker, she was considered an “employee” and thus not covered under the commercial policy.

According to court records, employer owned a farmer’s market that offered customers hay rides, pony rides, pumpkin-picking and the like. Plaintiff was hired to run the wagon for eight weekends. On one of those days, plaintiff suffered a horrific on-the-job accident in which the hay wagon crushed her spine. As a result, she is paraplegic and can no longer walk.

She filed a lawsuit in state court against the owner, his daughter and the company’s insurer, alleging negligence. She, the employer and his daughter filed additional lawsuits in state court seeking a declaratory judgment on the issue of coverage. The insurer filed a request for declaratory judgment in federal court. Eventually, those cases were consolidated in federal court. However, a separate workers’ compensation claim was filed by the insurance company on the theory plaintiff was an “employee” and thus eligible for workers’ compensation coverage. With that case pending, the court stayed the tort claim until the workers’ compensation issue is resolved.

The main question before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in deciding the declaratory judgment issue was whether plaintiff was an “employee” as defined in the commercial general liability policy.

The court affirmed an earlier judgment finding the worker was, in fact, an “employee” and thus was excluded from coverage under the company’s commercial general liability policy.

At this point, she may pursue the workers’ compensation claim, but again, because of exclusive remedy provisions, she will not be able to continue with the tort claim.

Generally, injured people may receive a greater dollar amount with a tort claim damage award, assuming they can prove negligence. However, she will not need to prove negligence in the workers’ compensation case – only that the injury occurred in the course and scope of her work.

For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-303-7770.

Additional Resources:
W. World Ins. Co. v. Armbruster, Dec. 8, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
More Blog Entries:
Auto Owners Ins. Co. v. All Star Lawn Specialists Plus – Defining Employee Versus Independent Contractor , Dec. 6, 2014, Georgia Work Injury Lawyer Blog