Case name: Wentworth v. Henry C. Becker Custom
Building Ltd., No. SJC-10806 (Mass. 05/23/11).
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that a suit against a contractor could continue even though it paid the workers' compensation claims of two workers employed by an uninsured subcontractor.
What it means: In Massachusetts, a contractor that pays the workers' compensation claims of injured workers of its subcontractor is not immune from being sued by the workers.
Summary: A general contractor at a residential construction site hired a subcontractor to perform waterproofing work. An explosion at the site resulted in the death of one of the subcontractor's workers and serious injuries to his son, another worker for the subcontractor. The subcontractor did not carry workers' compensation insurance. The contractor's insurer paid lump-sum settlements of the workers' claims. The deceased worker's widow, who was also the mother of the injured worker, sued the contractor. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said the suit could continue.
The contractor argued that by accepting the lump-sum settlements on behalf of the workers, the widow was barred from suing. The widow contended that the contractor was not an "insured" and the workers were not its employees, so the contractor was not immune from the suit. The court agreed with the widow. Immunity applied to the "insured," which is an employer providing workers' compensation insurance to its workers. It was undisputed that the workers were not employees of the contractor. The court concluded that a contractor paying workers' compensation benefits to its uninsured subcontractor's workers was not immune from suit.
Also, the court said the fact that the contractor was required by law to provide workers' compensation to the workers did not bar the suit. The court said the legislature did not intend to give the benefit of immunity to a contractor that willfully or negligently hired an uninsured subcontractor because the benefit was not available to contractors who obeyed the law and hired insured subcontractors. The court said its conclusion also implemented the legislature's intention to protect workers by allowing recovery from third parties, including general contractors who are not the worker's direct employer.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
July 11, 2011
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