Alabama: Trial Court’s Judgment Based—in Part—On Employer’s Contempt in Violating Mediation Order Was Erroneous

Alabama: Trial Court’s Judgment Based—in Part—On Employer’s Contempt in Violating Mediation Order Was Erroneous

Where a trial court expressly stated that it was sanctioning the employer by taking the employer’s contempt—the violation of a mediation order—into account when making the court’s various findings of fact and conclusions of law, instead of imposing an independent fine for such contempt, the trial court committed reversible error, held an Alabama appellate court recently.  Prior to trial, the trial court had entered a mediation order that required the presence of an insurance company representative that had “full settlement authority.” The order further explained that noncompliance could result in sanctions.  When the mediation took place, the insurance adjuster scheduled to attend did not appear, and counsel for the employer secured a replacement insurance adjuster with full settlement authority, who attended by telephone from Texas. The mediation was unsuccessful and the employee asked the trial court to impose sanctions on the employer for its failure to have an insurance adjuster personally attend the mediation. The trial court did not rule on the motion for sanctions before trial.  After trial, in its findings, however, the expressly stated that it had determined the “findings of fact and conclusions of law in part as a sanction for the [employer's] failure to comply with this Court's orders."  The court entered no separate monetary sanction on account of the employer's violation of the mediation order.  The appellate court indicated that the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act nowhere provided that a circuit court could base any factual findings essential to an employer's liability or any factual findings as to the amount of benefits to be awarded on the contemptuous conduct of the employer. Instead, § 25-5-51, Ala. Code 1975, generally premised an employer's liability for workers' compensation benefits on the occurrence of a work-related accident, without regard to the fault of the employer in causing that accident.  The trial court’s judgment was, accordingly, vacated.

Thomas A. Robinson, J.D., the Feature National Columnist for the LexisNexis Workers’ Compensation eNewsletter, is a leading commentator and expert on the law of workers’ compensation.

LexisNexis Online Subscribers: Citations below link to Lexis Advance. Bracketed citations link to lexis.com.

See Dollar Tree Stores, Inc. v. Ates, 2014 Ala. Civ. App. LEXIS 29 (Feb. 21, 2014) [2014 Ala. Civ. App. LEXIS 29 (Feb. 21, 2014)]

See generally Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, § 124.02 [124.02]

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

For more information about LexisNexis products and solutions connect with us through our corporate site