Larson’s Spotlight on Recent Cases: Spouse’s Loss of Consortium Action Against Employer Barred by Exclusive Remedy Rule

Larson's Spotlight on Exclusive Remedy, Settlement Agreement, Tort Immunity for Co-employee, Narcotics and Return to Work. Larson's surveys the latest case developments that you need to know about. Thomas A. Robinson, the staff writer for Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, has compiled the list below.

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CA: Spouse's Loss of Consortium Action Against Employer Under State's "Power-Press Exception" to Exclusivity is Barred Where Employee's Injuries Were Not Fatal

The Supreme Court of California, reversing the state's Court of Appeals, recently held that the wife of an employee could not sue the employer for loss of consortium under Cal. Labor Code § 4558-the power press exception-which allows an employee to sue an employer when his or her injuries were "proximately caused by the employer's knowing removal of, or knowing failure to install" protective guards on a power-press machine, such as the swaging machine operated by the employee.  The Court of Appeals had last year ruled that the spouse's claim, which ordinarily would have been barred by exclusivity, should stand because it was connected to the employee's § 4558 violation claim. That court believed that because § 4558 authorized the injured worker to sue his employer in a court of law for his power press injuries, the claims of both the worker and his dependent spouse fell outside the workers' compensation system altogether, and accordingly, the exclusivity rule did not apply or bar the spouse's loss of consortium claim.  The state Supreme Court disagreed.  It held that the purpose of § 4558 was "to augment" California workers compensation benefits, not to replace them.  Moreover, the section allowed tort actions by dependents only if the worker died. Such was not here the case; the spouse's claim for loss of consortium was barred by the exclusive remedy provisions of the California Act.

See LeFiell Mfg. Co. v. Superior Court (Watrous), 2012 Cal. LEXIS 8067 (Aug. 20, 2012).

See generally Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, § 101.02.

PA: Settlement Agreement May Not Be Set Aside in Spite of "New" Medical Bill That Exceeded Settlement Amount by Factor of Four

That an injured worker received a medical bill from a physician's office of more than $37,000, after he and the employer entered into a compromise and release agreement that disposed of his workers' compensation claim for a lump sum payment of $9,900 did not mean the C&R could be rescinded or set aside, held a Pennsylvania appellate court recently.  The court held that the worker failed to produce any credible evidence showing the existence of mutual mistake; there was no proof that the employer was mistaken regarding the unpaid medical bill at the time of settlement. Further, rescission on the basis of unilateral mistake was not warranted as the worker presented no credible evidence of the employer's intent and no evidence that he had communicated to the employer his belief that the C&R agreement did not apply to unpaid preexisting medical bills.

See Hoang v. Workers' Comp. Appeal Bd. (Howmet Aluminum Casting, Inc.), 2012 Pa. Commw. LEXIS 250 (Aug. 20, 2012).

See generally Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, § 132.02.

MD: Maryland Statute Requiring Employers to Indemnify Employees Acting Within Scope of Employment Does Not Violate Exclusive Remedy Rules

Maryland is one of four states that does not extend tort immunity to a co-employee acting within the course and scope of his or her employment.  Thus, in the instant case, a one employee of the school board could sue another for injuries sustained in a work-related automobile accident.  Maryland has another statute, Md. Code (1990, 2006 Repl. Vol.), § 5-518 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, that requires a county board of education to indemnify its negligent employees acting in the course of employment.  In a recent decision, the Court of Appeals of Maryland held that the indemnity provision does not violate the workers' compensation exclusivity rule. An employer who has indemnified a negligent employee and is, thus, required to pay both workers' compensation benefits and tort damages to an employee injured during the course of employment by the negligent employee is, however, entitled to offset the amount paid or awarded under workers' compensation from the amount of the tort judgment.

See Board of Education v. Marks-Sloan, 2012 Md. LEXIS 464 (Aug. 21, 2012).

See generally Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, §§ 111.02, 121.01.

TN: Truck Driver's Narcotic Pain Medication Prevents "Meaningful" Return to Work

Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-241 provides that when an injured employee returns to his or her job at the same pay, any award of permanent partial disability benefits is capped at one-and-one-half times the medical impairment rating. Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-241(d)(1)(A). If, however, the injured employee has not had a meaningful return to work, compensation is capped at six times the medical impairment rating. In construing that statutory framework, a Tennessee appellate court recently held that in as much as an employee's pain from a work-related injury did not permit him to continue driving a truck without using narcotic medication in violation of DOT policy, he did not have meaningful return to work under Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-241(d)(2)(A) and he was, therefore, entitled to benefits in excess of one and one-half times medical impairment rating.

See Renfro v. Starnet Ins. Co., 2012 Tenn. LEXIS 496 (Aug. 15, 2012).

See generally Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, § 80.02.  

Source: Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, the nation's leading authority on workers' compensation law.

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