In several recent blog posts dealing with workers’ compensation law, we have looked at what statutory employees are, why they exist, and the “usual course of business” defense that many employers make.
While statutory employees can use this legal concept to benefit from workers’ compensation coverage from someone other than their direct employer, it also means that these statutory employers are immune from civil lawsuits. A recent Missouri Supreme Court case made that clear.
A Workplace Injury and a Maze of Subcontractors
The incident happened on September 30, 2016. A dump truck driver with R&B Trucking was sitting in his cab, waiting for someone else to unload dirt from a construction project into his truck. The load, though, was so big and heavy that it sent the driver into the roof of the cab. He suffered significant injuries, and received workers’ compensation from R&B.
The driver then filed a personal injury lawsuit against the general contractor for the project, as well as the driver who dropped too much dirt into the dump truck.
The claim revealed a long chain of contractors and subcontractors. There was:
- The injured driver, who was employed by R&B Trucking,
- R&B Trucking, who was a subcontractor for C-Sharp Trucking,
- C-Sharp Trucking, who was a subcontractor for George J. Shaw Construction Co.,
- Shaw, who was hired by J.E. Dunn Construction, the general contractor for the project, and who employed the driver who dumped the excessive amount of dirt into the dump truck, and
- Dunn, who was hired by the owner of the property, Cerner Properties Development, Inc.
Statutory Employers and Co-Employees Immune from Lawsuit
The Missouri Supreme Court stepped into the case, State ex rel. Beutler v. Midkiff.
The court pointed out that the line of contractors and subcontractors from the injured dump truck driver to the company that employed the worker who dropped too much dirt into the truck was unbroken. This meant that, under Missouri Statute 287.040(2), George J. Shaw Construction Co. was the statutory employer of the hurt dump truck driver. All of Shaw’s employees were therefore co-employees of the victim.
As a statutory employer, this meant that Shaw would have been secondarily liable to the hurt driver, if both R&B Trucking and C-Sharp Trucking did not have adequate workers’ compensation coverage. This potential source of workers’ compensation coverage is a big benefit to workers.
But as a statutory employer, Shaw’s potential liability under workers’ compensation law also meant that the company and its employees were immune from personal injury lawsuits for workplace injuries. This is the big trade-off that is fundamental to workers’ compensation law.
Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office in St. Joseph
Like most of workers’ compensation law in Missouri, the concept of a statutory employer creates a trade-off where workers are more likely to get covered for workplace injuries, but less likely to be able to take someone to court.
The workers’ compensation lawyers at the Smith Law Office strives to help injured workers get the compensation they need. Contact them online or call their law office at (816) 875-9373 for legal representation in St. Joseph, Kansas City, Springfield, or the rest of western Missouri.