Injured Workers; Only Entitled to Workers Compensation?
After a serious on the job injury too many lawyers and clients have been conditioned to believe a worker is only entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. While that may sometimes be the case, it’s not always. Unfortunately for workers in Florida the vast majority of worker’s compensation and personal injury attorneys do not have a clear understanding of the situations where a worker is entitled to more than just worker’s compensation benefits. There are in fact various scenarios where an injured worker could also be entitled to recover for his pain and suffering as well as the remainder of his unpaid wages and future medical expenses. The Unrelated Worker’s Exception is just one of the several exceptions to the general rule that worker’s compensation is the exclusive remedy for an on the job injury. As each case is unique I encourage you to call or text my office to discuss your specific situation so we can determine if this or another exception might allow you to sue your employer for more than just worker’s compensation.
As anyone who drives the streets of Central Florida will tell you construction is everywhere. In the construction industry, it is not uncommon to work with different contractors, subcontractors, equipment rental companies, and heavy machinery manufactured and maintained by a variety of Fortune 500 companies. Even for those not involved in the construction industry Florida’s manufacturing, warehouse and service industry is rapidly expanding. Consequently, nowadays you are more likely to work with independent contractors and leased employees than an employee paid by the same employer. This article is primarily for those non-construction workers in Florida’s warehouses, big box retailers, farms, manufacturing plants, utility companies, mines, rail yards, and airports as well as everyone else who has suffered a catastrophic injury on the job due to the bad acts of another fellow employee, leased employee, temporary employee or independent contractor but have been told they were only entitled to worker’s compensation. Construction workers are such a unique case that they deserve and have their own article.
Florida’s Unrelated Works Exception
In many cases, an injured worker is often hurt on the job by the mistake or carelessness of another employee. It’s almost a reflex to think afterwards I’m hurt on the job it must be a worker’s compensation claim, end of story. Well with every rule there is at least one exception. It is a little known fact (although it should not be) that there is a statutory exception to worker’s compensation exclusive remedy. This is unique to Florida. Per Florida Statute 440.11(1) if employees from the same company are primarily assigned to unrelated works an employee can sue his employer for any injuries caused by another employee.
Until about 10 years ago depending on what city you worked in, however, there was a different rule that determined whether you could sue your employer for the negligence of another employee. In 2006, thankfully, the Florida Supreme Court stepped in and added some much-needed clarity to these situations. In Aravena v. Miami-Dade County, 928 So.2d 1163 (Fla. 2006), the court finally laid out some ground rules for employers and employees to make it easier to judge when the exception applies.
The Six Factor Test
Focusing on the words primarily assigned the Supreme Court concluded that the phrase had both an operational and location component. They implemented a six-factor balancing test. They are:
- Whether the co-employees work at the same location;
- Whether the co-employees must cooperate as a team to accomplish a specific mission as opposed to the general mission of the company;
- The size of the employer;
- Whether the co-employees have similar job duties;
- Whether the co-employees have the same supervisor; and
- Whether the co-employees work with the same equipment.
The court went onto emphasize in those cases where the co-employees do not work at the same location; it is more likely that they will be considered to be primarily assigned to unrelated works and thus entitled to sue their employer for personal injury damages.
In one recent case Luch, a janitor employed by an independent Janitorial Company (ABM), provided cleaning services for American Airlines. An employee from a separate baggage handler company (Carlton Service), also working for American Airlines, was driving a tractor when he ran into several baggage carts and a trash can. The can fell on Luch and fractured his leg. The Miami court held that Luch could not sue Carlton for his pain and suffering and dismissed his case. On appeal the decision was reversed based on the following factors:
- Luch’s job required him to be elsewhere from the baggage handlers even though they sometimes overlapped;
- Luch reported to work at a different location than the baggage handlers;
- Luch and the negligent employee had never met each other; and
- Luch and the negligent employee had different supervisors and received different instructions on a daily basis.
This is just one of many examples where an injured employee was awarded additional compensation for his injuries. Based on recent court decisions an injured Florida worker may be able to rely on more than worker’s compensation benefits as monetary payment for their injuries. In many cases under the unrelated works exception they now have one more opportunity to recover for their pain and suffering.
If you or a loved one was significantly hurt on the job due to another employee’s carelessness call us or text us at 407-612-6464 to see if this exception or one of several others might entitle you to recover for pain and suffering as well as the remainder of your lost wages and medical expenses.