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Curtis v. Lemna – Third-Party Lawsuits Against Co-Workers May be Barred

Curtis v. Lemna – Third-Party Lawsuits Against Co-Workers May be Barred

Florida employees injured on-the-job should enjoy workers’ compensation coverage, so long as the injury happened during or arose in the course of employment. There is no required proof of negligence or fault, and workers should be compensated fairly quickly. The trade-off is workers can’t then turn around and file a lawsuit against their employer.
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There are, however, some instances wherein workers can file third-party lawsuits where other companies or individuals were responsible. But there are limitations. Typically, one can’t sue a co-worker who caused an injury so long as the co-worker was acting in the course of employment. This can be a little more complicated on a multi-employer site. Florida Statute 440.10 holds that when general and sub-contractors working together with other sub-contractors, they are considered to be engaged in a common enterprise and will be immune from claims of workplace negligence, so long as the sub-contractor or general contractor purchased workers’ compensation insurance.

Negligence lawsuits against co-workers for work injuries are generally barred unless the co-worker was acting outside the scope of employment. This was the allegation in the recent case of Curtis v. Lemna, where plaintiff was injured in a golf cart accident after his co-worker lost control of the vehicle. The two were at an out-of-state sales conference, of which the golf game was reportedly a part.

The injured worker sought and received workers’ compensation benefits from his employer in his home state (Arizona). However, he then filed a negligence action against his co-worker in the state where the golf cart accident occurred (Arkansas).

The co-worker filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that the pair were co-employees at the time of the accident, and further the state workers’ compensation commission – not the circuit court – had exclusive jurisdiction to decide whether he was entitled to immunity. The lower court granted the co-worker’s motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction until the commission had a chance to weigh the case.

During a pre-hearing conference, the injured worker clarified he wasn’t seeking benefits under Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Act, but rather a determination of whether it was applicable, whether the pair were acting in the scope of employment and whether the co-worker was entitled to immunity.

The commission found the two were acting in the scope of employment at the time of the accident. Although they were engaged in a game of golf, the two were conducting business for their employer – specifically, the game was part of a sales meeting and team-building event.

Hollywood work injury lawyers know the general test for determining whether a function is “within the scope of employment” is whether it:
–Occurred within the time and space boundaries of employment;
–Happened while the worker was carrying out the employer’s purpose or advancing employer’s interest, directly or indirectly.

Courts have been split in cases where injuries occurred at work-related extracurriculars. For example, the South Carolina Supreme Court approved workers’ compensation for a man injured in a kickball injury because he was required to attend the after-work event as part of his job. But also this same year, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled in Graven v. N.C. Dept. of Public Safety that a deputy injured in a crash after attending a work-related luncheon was not compensable because the pair were not required to attend and therefore it was not “work-related.”

Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
Curtis v. Lemna, Sept. 18, 2014, Arkansas Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Force v. Am. Family Mut. Ins. – Sorting Which Survivors Are Entitled to Wrongful Death Damages, Aug. 7, 2014, Hollywood Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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