Employer prevented from raising immunity defense in civil action
Case name: Rush v. BellSouth Telecommunications, Inc. d/b/a AT&T Florida, No. 3:10cv436/MCR/EMT (N.D. Fla. 02/17/11).
Ruling: The U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida held that a worker was not required to litigate her workers' compensation claim to completion before proceeding with a civil action.
What it means: In Florida, where the employer denies a workers' compensation claim on the basis that the worker's alleged exposure did not occur in the course and scope of her employment, the worker is not required to litigate her workers' compensation claim to completion before filing a civil action.
Summary: The worker filed a petition for workers' compensation benefits alleging exposure to toxic mold, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, and other complications related to "sick building syndrome." In response, the employer argued that the worker's alleged exposure did not occur in the course and scope of her employment and that she did not suffer an injury by accident. Prior to the final hearing, the worker dismissed her case before any determination on the merits of her claim. The worker then sued her employer for negligence. The employer argued that the worker's remedies were limited to benefits payable under the workers' compensation law, and therefore, she should be required to litigate her claims to conclusion in the workers' compensation arena before proceeding with a civil action. The U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida disagreed and allowed the worker's suit to continue.
The employer contended that employees must exhaust their administrative remedies before filing suit in civil court. A prior case explained that when the employer asserts in the workers' compensation proceedings that the accident was not within the course and scope of employment, the employer cannot later raise a workers' compensation immunity defense in the civil action. The two defenses are irreconcilably inconsistent, the court said. The employer asserted that the workers' compensation law did not cover the worker's injury. Therefore, the worker was not barred from pursuing her claim in court.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
April 4, 2011
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