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Vebr v. Culp – Uninsured Employer and Third-Party Litigation

In Georgia, as in most other states, almost all employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance, which provides coverage to employees in the event of a work-related injury. The guideline here is that all companies with three or more employees must capaintingthesetrry this coverage.

There are state-issued penalties for companies that fail to comply with this order. However, these businesses sometimes aren’t identified until a work injury happens. So where does that leave the worker?

A couple of options may be available. The first is to petition the state board to issue an order mandating the company pay for medical expenses, lost wages, attorney’s fees and other civil assessments for violation of the law. The second is to consider filing a personal injury lawsuit against the employer. Although employers are typically protected from litigation via the exclusive remedy provision of workers’ compensation law, those who break the law by not carrying insurance don’t have that protection. The caveat is that worker has to be able to prove the company was negligent in causing the injury. Finally, there may be an option for third-party litigation if some other person or entity was liable.

In the recent case of Vebr v. Culp, plaintiff was employed by an uninsured and unlicensed contractor to help paint the interior of a private residence. Approximately one hour into the job, he fell 15 feet from a ladder and was seriously injured. It wasn’t until then the worker found out the company was dodging its workers’ compensation requirements. Because doing so is a violation of law, contractor’s license was automatically suspended.

That meant the company could potentially be held liable, and it also opened the homeowners to potential liability as well.

Plaintiff sued the homeowners for premises liability.

Prior to the incident, plaintiffs hired the company to paint the interior of their home after meeting with the owner and verifying the valid license online. The homeowner was not a professional painter, but he did assist with some of the work in order to help save money. However, the higher ceiling work exceeded his area of experience and comfort, and he left this to the contractor.

The worker was not able to say what caused the ladder to fall. He was unsure where the other two painters on the job were at the time of the fall. The ladder wasn’t resting up against a wall, and there didn’t appear to be anything wrong with the ladder. He called it “physics.”

Had the company properly secured workers’ compensation insurance, there would have been little question the injuries would be covered. However, that was not the case. The homeowners had a homeowners’ insurance policy that granted workers’ compensation coverage for residence employees, but plaintiff didn’t qualify under that plan.

Plaintiff alleged defendant homeowners were at least partially negligent because they signed a contract with the painting company even though the “Contractor’s License Detail” available to the state board stipulated the company certified it had no employees – a fact that was easily refuted.

Defendant homeowners filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting there were no facts they breached any duty to him or that the property was defective or dangerous. Further, they alleged they weren’t the statutory employers of either the contractor or the worker. However, if they were statutory employers, it would at most allow plaintiff to bring a tort action against them, and there was no evidence they were negligent. Trial court agreed, and the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District, Division Three, affirmed.

California has an Uninsured Employers Benefit Trust Fund, managed by the Division of Workers’ Compensation, that could serve as an option for plaintiff in this case.

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

Additional Resources:

Vebr v. Culp, Oct. 28, 2015, California Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District, Division Three

More Blog Entries:

Fairchild v. Kentucky Fried Chicken – Credibility of Workers’ Compensation Claimant at Issue, Oct. 24, 2015, Atlanta Worker Injury Attorney Blog