Usually, it is the workers who seek workers’ compensation benefits from the employer. However, due to the exclusive remedy provision of workers’ compensation statutes, sometimes it’s the company that seeks to prove a work injury claim is subject to remedy per workers’ compensation statutes, rather than through civil courts.Exclusive remedy is a trade-off. The worker is supposed to receive fast, accessible benefits to cover medical expenses and a portion of lost wages for on-the-job injuries and illnesses without having to prove employer negligence. In turn, workers forfeit their right to sue the employer for what would likely be a higher payout. The company is thus immune to most litigation in this regard. However, other responsible third parties may still be held accountable without breaching this immunity.
Usually, this arrangement is beneficial to both parties. However, there are some employment hierarchies in which the labels “employee” and “employer” may come into question. Workers’ compensation exclusive remedy and immunity isn’t applicable where the claimant wasn’t an “employee” and the defendant not an “employer.” That leaves the worker free to sue for damages, although he or she will have to prove negligence.
A recent high-profile case out of Texas is centered on this issue. Here, it is the company that owns a hospital that is seeking a workers’ compensation claim for a nurse in state court. The nurse, however, has a pending lawsuit against the hospital owner in state court for negligence in failing to protect her from contracting the Ebola virus last year. The hospital owner argues the claim should be for workers’ compensation, but the nurse has countered the hospital owner wasn’t her employer.
The nurse contracted the deadly disease last fall while working at a hospital in Dallas. There, a man who recently returned from travels to Liberia, where there had been an outbreak of the virus, was diagnosed with the disease. That patient later died of the disease.
Central to the dispute between the worker and the hospital is one of jurisdiction: Does the state civil court have jurisdiction or does the workers’ compensation board? If the workers’ compensation board is deemed to have oversight of the matter, the nurse’s negligence claim will likely go out the window. However, if the state court has jurisdiction, she will be free to pursue her negligence claim against the hospital owner, and she will also likely be able to pursue workers’ compensation benefits from the hospital she claims was her employer.
The determination of jurisdiction hinges on whether the nurse was an employee of the hospital owner or, as she claims, an employee of the hospital itself.
Lawyers for the nurse say the hospital’s filing this claim for workers’ compensation didn’t come until after she filed her personal injury lawsuit, and is an obvious attempt to shut down her efforts.
Interestingly, the owner of the hospital has argued in past claims for workers’ compensation that it is NOT the employer of nurses and doctors, but rather that the hospitals were the employers. Now, it is arguing the exact opposite.
The hospital owner and the hospital are two separate companies with two separate insurance companies.
During a recent court hearing, attorneys for the hospital owner argued that while not all nurses at each hospital are employees of the parent company, this case was special.
Although the nurse survived the illness, she continues to have a number of ongoing health problems, primarily related to the use of experimental drugs necessary to save her life. She alleges the hospital’s parent company had inadequate training and failed to provide her with proper protective gear that would have prevented her from contracting the illness in the first place.
She would later tell a news outlet neither the hospital nor the parent company took responsibility for protecting the nurses caring for the patient with such a serious and contagious disease. All decisions relating to how employees should protect themselves were left to the workers themselves, sometimes relying on printouts they located on the Internet.
A state district judge has issued a temporary restraining order on the workers’ compensation claim until the jurisdictional issue can be decided.
Our work injury attorneys understand there are cases in which workers want to secure benefits. In other cases, like this one, it may be advantageous to argue against the existence of an employer-employee relationship. We help our clients carefully consider all of their options.
For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-303-7770.