Employment relationship with airline derails personal injury suit
Case name: Roberts v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., No. 09-1045 (1st Cir. 03/24/10).
Ruling: The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of a former flight attendant's personal injury suit against Delta Air Lines. Although the flight attendant was working for a wholly-owned Delta subsidiary when she was injured, Delta remained her employer. As a result, workers' compensation provided the sole remedy for her injuries.
What it means: Under Massachusetts law, an employer is entitled to immunity from personal liability when the injury occurs in the scope of employment. In determining whether an employment relationship exists, courts examine several factors, including whether the entity directed and controlled the employee's activities.
Summary: A flight attendant suffered severe back injuries when the plane came to an abrupt stop on the runway. She underwent multiple spinal surgeries but was unable to return to work as a flight attendant. She agreed to accept a lump sum in lieu of future workers' compensation payments. The agreement listed her employer as "Song Airlines/Delta (in dispute)." She also sued Delta for her personal injuries, arguing that Song Airlines, not Delta, was her employer. The U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts granted summary judgment for Delta, finding that it was immune from personal liability because the claimant was a "loaned servant" when her injuries occurred. Because an employment relationship existed, the Massachusetts Workers' Compensation Act provided the exclusive remedy for the claimant's injuries.
The claimant argued that although she had been a Delta employee, she severed her employment relationship with Delta when she went to work for Song Airlines. The 1st Circuit disagreed, finding that Delta's direction and control over the claimant was "so clear," it did not have to examine the "intricacies of the corporate relationship between Delta and Song." Instead, it cited several factors confirming the existence of an employment relationship, including: 1) the claimant remained under Delta's control, and such direction and control was required by federal law; 2) Delta employees interviewed and hired her; 3) Delta was ultimately responsible for her training and work assignments; and 4) the aircraft the claimant worked on were piloted, owned or leased, and serviced by Delta personnel.
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June 3, 2010
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