Schroeder v. Peoplease Corp., No. 1D08-4247 (Fla. 1st Dist. Ct. App. 09/25/09).
Ruling: The Florida District Court of Appeal reversed and remanded the order of the trial court granting the employer summary judgment. Because there were disputed issues of fact regarding the question of estoppel, summary judgment was inappropriate.
What it means:
Where an employer denies workers' compensation coverage on the ground that the employee's injury did not arise out of and in the course of employment, the employer will be prohibited from subsequently asserting the exclusivity of the Workers' Compensation Act as a defense to the employee's subsequent civil claim.
Summary: A truck driver, who was working under an employee leasing contract between his employer and another company, suffered heart problems while attempting to rearrange merchandise on his delivery truck. He filed a petition against the employer for workers' compensation benefits. The employer controverted the claim and filed a notice of denial. The truck driver then filed a negligence action against the employer and the company. A trial court dismissed the case, ruling that the employer and the defendants were immune from suit. The District Court of Appeal reversed, reasoning that there were disputed issues as to the meaning of the language employed in the notice of denial.
The employer denied the claim on the grounds that the truck driver had a preexisting condition, which is a recognized defense to a claim for workers' compensation benefits. The truck driver contended that summary judgment was not appropriate because the employer and leasing company also denied that he suffered an accident or injury arising out of and in the course of his employment. Therefore, he argued, they were estopped from asserting the exclusivity of the Workers' Compensation Act. The court noted it would be inequitable to allow an employer to deny compensation coverage on the basis that the injury did not arise out of the course and scope of employment, then later claim immunity from a civil suit on the basis that the injury did arise out of the course and scope of employment.
The court concluded that whether estoppel was appropriate in this case and whether the employer took irreconcilable positions depended on the meaning to be accorded the notice of denial, and thus remanded the case.
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October 22, 2009
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