In Florida, a person who is injured on the job can often seek compensation for his or her injuries under the employer's worker's compensation plan. But can the employee also sue the employer for negligence? The district court for the Middle District of Florida answers that question in Mena v. J.I.L. Construction Group, Inc.
Plaintiff Victor Mena sued Defendants J.I.L. Construction Group Corporation (J.I.L.) and Slorp Construction Company, Inc. (Slorp) for injuries sustained when he fell from a second-floor roof truss of a house that he was building in a Davie residential development. A general contractor subcontracted the shell construction of homes in the development to Slorp, which in turn subcontracted part of its work to J.I.L, which hired Mena to work on the construction. Both companies denied his claims for worker's compensation benefits, asserting that they did not have an employer/employee relationship with Mena. He then filed the present action alleging negligence by both J.I.L. and Slorp.
In addition to defending the action based on assumption of risk and comparative negligence, the companies further argued that they were immune from suit because Plaintiff's injuries were compensable exclusively under Florida's Worker's Compensation Act. Plaintiff, on the other hand, argued that the companies were estopped from raising this defense because they previously denied his worker's compensation claims. The trial court sided with the subcontractors, granting Defendants' motions for summary judgment.
On appeal, the Middle District affirmed the summary judgment ruling in favor of Slorp, but reversed the ruling in favor of J.I.L. Under Florida law, the Court noted, an employee cannot sue an employer for injuries encompassed in the state's Worker's Compensation Act. Citing Florida's Third District Court of Appeals' ruling in Coastal Masonry v. Gutierrez, however, the Court also stated
where an employer denies a claim for worker's compensation benefits on the basis that the injury did not occur in the course and scope of employment, or that there was no employment relationship, the employer may be estopped from asserting in a later tort action that the worker's exclusive remedy was worker's compensation...Furthermore, a court should not grant summary judgment where the employer's notice of denial of a worker's comp claim could give rise to more than one interpretation as to whether the denial is inconsistent with a worker's compensation immunity defense, according to the Court.
In this case, the Court ruled that it could not determine whether J.I.L.'s denial of Plaintiff's worker's comp claim was inconsistent with its immunity defense. Specifically, it found that the meaning of J.I.L.'s indication that no employer/employee relationship existed between it and Plaintiff was unclear "at the very least." As a result, it reversed the summary judgment ruling. The Court found no such inconsistency in regard to Slorp, however. Rather, Slorp denied Plaintiff's worker's comp claim on the basis that he was employed by J.I.L. and therefore covered under J.I.L.'s worker's comp plan. In its immunity defense, the company similarly argued that Plaintiff was acting in the course and scope of his employment when he was injured. Thus, Slorp was not estopped from claiming worker's compensation immunity.
At the Law Firm of Anidjar & Levine, we have extensive experience handling all types of accident claims in the South Florida area, including Fort Lauderdale, Coral Springs, Hollywood, Boca Raton, Pompano Beach, and Hialeah. If you have suffered injury because of another person's negligence, call us for a free consultation today.
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