The Supreme Court of Alabama recently affirmed a county circuit court’s decision in the workers’ compensation case of David Vinson, Jr. v. G & R Mineral Services, Inc..
Our Birmingham workers’ compensation lawyers recognize that the primary issue in this case was whether the defendant was in fact the worker’s employer, or whether it was a “special employer” (as opposed to a “general employer”), which would make the firm immune from liability.
Per the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act, a company is deemed a special employer when it is the co-employer of the injured worker. It’s sometimes referred to as the “loaned servant doctrine,” wherein one employer assigns its employee to perform services for another employer. In these situations, the employer who assigns the worker is the “general employer,” while the employer to whom the employee was assigned in a “special employer.”
In terms of workers’ compensation law, the general employer is typically considered the entity liable if a worker is injured. The special employer is immune.
This issue is raised quite a bit in cases when the worker was employed by a temp agency (and temporary workers tend to suffer work-related injuries at a higher rate than regular, full-time workers).
Still, Alabama law allows that a special employer can be liable for workers’ compensation when the following conditions are met:
So the question in the Vinson case was how the defendant company should be labeled – a general employer or a special employer. Here, the state supreme court sided with the defendant.
According to court records, the plaintiff sought employment with the defendant, a contractor that provided services to the Chemical Line Company of Alabama. The defendant referred the plaintiff to a temporary employment agency. He was then hired by the temporary employment agency to work for the defendant changing out lime filters.
On his second day of work, the plaintiff inhaled lime dust and had to be hospitalized. He did not return to work.
He sought workers’ compensation benefits from the temporary employment agency, but that firm’s insurance carrier later became insolvent. In its place, the Alabama Insurance Guarantee Association assumed responsibility. However, this agency eventually discontinued the benefits, and the plaintiff then sought benefits from the defendant by filing a lawsuit.
Court filings indicate that the defendant’s insurance carrier convinced the plaintiff to drop the lawsuit because the defendant was not the plaintiff’s general employer.
The plaintiff then filed a negligence lawsuit against the firm, and the company filed a motion for a summary judgment asserting that as a special employer, it was immune from tort liability.
The trial court agreed, and issued a summary judgment in favor of the defendant. Higher courts supported this finding on appeal.
David Vinson, Jr. v. G & R Mineral Services, Inc., Jan. 24, 2014, Alabama Supreme Court