Employer's violation of child labor laws doesn't remove accident from WC arena
Estate of Reif v. Automotive & Truck Services, Inc., et al., No. 2007AP2582 (Wis. Ct. App. 12/03/08).
What it means: An employer who legally employs a minor child but has that child perform tasks that are prohibited by Wisconsin's child labor laws does not lose its immunity from personal liability as a result of the child's death. The exclusive remedy for a child's injury or death that results from an employment-related accident is provided by the workers' compensation system.
Summary: As part of an apprentice program, a 17-year-old high school student worked part-time at an automotive and truck servicing company. Although the school informed the company that the student was not permitted to tow vehicles, the company sent the student on tow calls. While unhooking a vehicle that had been involved in an accident, the vehicle fell on the student and pinned him. The lack of oxygen ended his life.
A lower court dismissed the personal injury suit brought by the student's parents, concluding that because the student's death resulted from a work-related accident, workers' compensation provided their sole remedy. The Court of Appeals agreed. The employer's violation of Wisconsin's child labor laws allowing the minor to operate a tow truck did not remove the accident from the workers' compensation arena.
In determining whether workers' compensation provides the exclusive remedy for an injury or death, Wisconsin courts look at whether the act that caused the injury was intentional or accidental. The Court of Appeals found that the student "certainly did not foresee that pursuing this part of his employment would lead to his untimely death." As a result, it concluded that his death was accidental.
It also declined to carve out a public policy exception for an employer who violates the child labor laws, reasoning that "there is nothing in Wisconsin law" that took the employer's actions outside the exclusivity provision of the Workers' Compensation Act.
January 15, 2009
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