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Bostic v. Dalton - 158 S.W.3d 347 (Tenn. 2005)

Rule:

Generally, an employee who is injured in an accident while in the course of employment is limited to recovering workers' compensation benefits from the employer. Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-103 (1999). Thus, coverage under the Tennessee Workers' Compensation Act primarily depends upon the existence of an employer-employee relationship. The legislature has extended this relationship to principal contractors, intermediate contractors, and subcontractors.

Facts:

In 1999, Delicia Dalton (Delicia) authorized her father, Paul Dalton (Paul), to assist her in the construction of a residence on property she owned. Paul did not charge Delicia for his labor and did not receive any compensation.  Paul hired his nephew, Michael Evans (Evans), to frame Delicia's house. Evans, a subcontractor and owner of Ocoee Construction Company, employed the appellant, Jackie Bostic (Bostic), to assist in framing the house. As Bostic was working on the house, he fell from an unstable, eight-foot wall onto a "pile of 2x4s." As a result of the accident, Bostic fractured his tibia and fibula and suffered injuries to his left ankle and foot. Bostic brought an action against Paul and Delicia pursuant to the Tennessee Workers' Compensation Act. At the conclusion of the trial, the trial court denied Bostic relief, finding that Bostic was not an employee of Delicia. The trial court further found Paul was not liable under the Workers' Compensation Act as the statute imposing liability on contractors was not intended to apply to the circumstances that were presented in the present case.  The trial court noted that Paul had not received any compensation for his efforts, even though he obtained the necessary permits, supervised construction, and employed subcontractors. The Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel affirmed the trial court's judgment holding that Delicia, as the owner, was exempt from the provisions of the Workers' Compensation Act pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 50-6-113(f)(1) (1999). This finding was not appealed. The Panel further found that Paul was his daughter's agent and thus was also exempt under § 50-6-113(f)(1). Bostic filed a motion for review of this issue pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 50-6-225(e)(5)(B).

Issue:

Was Paul Dalton liable to Bostic for the injuries that Bostic suffered while working on the construction of a home owned by Paul’s daughter?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Court held that under the clear and unambiguous language of Tenn. Stat. Ann. § 50-6-113 (1999), Paul Dalton qualified as "a person engaged in the construction industry," who was required to carry workers' compensation insurance. However the Court agreed with the Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel and held that Paul Dalton was acting as an agent for his daughter, who was building a structure on her own property for her own use, and therefore, fell within the owner's exemption provided in § 50-6-113(f)(1). The Court found that Paul Dalton satisfied the second element of the ownership exemption because it was undisputed that he was not compensated for his efforts in supervising the construction. As such, the Court concluded that Paul Dalton was not subject to liability under the provisions of the Workers' Compensation Act.

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