Worker injured while supervising third party's construction project can sue
Lundebrek v. S.J. Louis Construction, Inc., No. A09-1270 (Minn. Ct. App. 04/20/10, unpublished).
Ruling: In an unpublished decision, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed a lower court's decision dismissing a worker's negligence suit against a third party. The prohibition against suits in cases where the worker received workers' compensation benefits did not apply because the employer and the third party were not engaged in a "common enterprise."
What it means: The Minnesota Workers' Compensation Act prohibits workers from obtaining benefits from their employers and initiating lawsuits against third parties for workplace injuries. However, the law does not prevent such suits when the worker is not working on the same project or performing the same work as the third party.
An employee of Hardrives Corp. created a computerized retaining wall design for S.J. Louis Construction Inc. The employee went to the work site and instructed the construction company's employees regarding building the wall and demonstrated how to assemble the wall's blocks. The worker suffered a hand injury when a skid loader driven by an employee of the construction company struck him. He obtained workers' compensation benefits from his employer but also sued the construction company for negligence. A trial court dismissed the negligence lawsuit, concluding that the worker's receipt of workers' compensation prevented such an action. The Court of Appeals disagreed and reversed.
The court explained that although the law prevents workers from both obtaining workers' compensation benefits and suing third parties for workplace injuries, that limitation did not apply to the employee's situation. The statute barring claims for benefits and lawsuits against third parties applies only when the employer and third party were engaged in a common enterprise.
The employer was involved only in the delivery of blocks and in providing instruction regarding their assembly. This limited assistance was not enough to constitute working on the same project, the court said. It also found that the employee and the construction company employees were not working together because their duties were "entirely different" and their work overlapped only minimally. As a result, the companies were not involved in a common enterprise, and the worker could pursue his suit.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
July 19, 2010
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