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Federal Court Determines Injured Worker’s Sole Remedy Is through a Workers’ Compensation Claim Because At-Fault Party Was a “Contractor” of Plaintiff’s Employer

Earlier this year, a federal appellate court issued an opinion dismissing a personal injury case filed by an injured worker after he had already received Workers’ Compensation benefits from his employer. In the case, Black v. Dixie Consumer Products, the court held that since the at-fault party was an employee of a company that had a contractor relationship with the plaintiff’s employer, the at-fault party’s employer was protected under the employer’s Workers’ Compensation plan.

Forklift in WarehouseA Truck Driver Is Hurt While Unloading Cargo

The plaintiff, Black, was a truck driver employed by a freight company that delivered raw paper pulp to Dixie, a company that then turned the pulp into paper products. One day, Black arrived at the Dixie plant and began helping a Dixie employee unload the cargo. As the two were unloading, the Dixie employee ran over Black’s foot with a forklift.

Black obtained Workers’ Compensation benefits through his own employer, and he later filed a personal injury lawsuit against Dixie, claiming that the negligence of a Dixie employee caused his injuries. Dixie filed a motion for summary judgement, claiming that since Black had already obtained benefits for the injury, the company was immune under the “contractor immunity” theory.

The contractor immunity theory provides protection from lawsuits for companies that contract out work that results in an injury to one of the contracted company’s employees. The idea behind the theory is that the injured party’s direct employer is the one who should be responsible for maintaining Workers’ Compensation insurance. Only if the employee’s direct employer does not have Workers’ Compensation insurance can the contracting company be liable, and even then there may be exceptions.

The Appellate Opinion

The trial court denied Dixie’s motion, and Dixie then appealed. On appeal, the court reversed the lower court’s holding, explaining that Dixie was entitled to summary judgment because Black had already obtained Workers’ Compensation benefits. The court explained that someone in Black’s shoes will always obtain benefits, either from their own employer or the contracting company. Since the availability of Workers’ Compensation benefits extends through both companies, so does the immunity granted when Workers’ Compensation benefits are provided. Since Black had already recovered Workers’ Compensation benefits, he was prevented from filing a personal injury lawsuit against both his own employer as well as Dixie.

While Black is likely not satisfied with this decision, it is beneficial for workers who may become injured in the future because it shows the court’s willingness to broadly extend Workers’ Compensation benefits to injured workers, even if their own company may not have Workers’ Compensation insurance.

Have You Been Injured on the Job in Georgia?

If you have recently been injured while on the job, you may be entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits. It is important to keep in mind that these benefits are controlled by insurance companies, many of which do not have injured workers’ best interests in mind. It is therefore very important that anyone injured while on the job seek out a dedicated Workers’ Compensation attorney to assist them with their claim. Call J. Franklin Burns, P.C. at 404-303-7770 to set up a consultation with an experienced attorney who can help you understand what you may be entitled to receive. We represent injured workers in Atlanta and across Georgia.

More Blog Entries:

Companies Cannot Set Their Own Workers’ Compensation Rules, Oklahoma Decides, Oct. 6, 2016, Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

OSHA Fights to Inspect Georgia Poultry Plant for Worker Injury Risks, Sept. 21, 2016, Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog