Workers' comp is sole remedy for estate of statutory employee

Milliken & Co. hired Sanders Brothers Inc., a mechanical contracting firm, to provide workers to assist Milliken employees on machinery maintenance and installation projects in its dye package plant in Abbeville, S.C. On Feb 10, 1998, Christopher Eden

Milliken & Co. hired Sanders Brothers Inc., a mechanical contracting firm, to provide workers to assist Milliken employees on machinery maintenance and installation projects in its dye package plant in Abbeville, S.C. On Feb 10, 1998, Christopher Edens, a Sanders employee, was assigned to help Milliken employees modify the door to a dye vat.

The area of the plant where Edens was working had a massive robotic shuttle that moved back and forth on tracks to transport wool to and from

dye vats. Pressure-sensitive safety mats were positioned on the floor between the dye vats; if they were stepped on, they automatically stopped the shuttle's movement. A Milliken employee disconnected the safety mats because they were repeatedly stepped on causing the robotic shuttle to stop.

The work was completed, but the safety mats were not reconnected. Later, Edens returned to check his work. Unaware that anyone was in the area, a Milliken operator activated the shuttle pinning Edens against a dye vat. He died from his injuries.

A representative of Edens' estate filed a wrongful-death suit against Milliken. The trial judge dismissed the lawsuit, ruling the estate's action was barred by the South Carolina workers' compensation law that makes the recovery of workers' compensation benefits an

injured employee's sole remedy against his employer, and prevents injured employees from filing lawsuits against their employers over injuries suffered in the workplace. Edens' estate had already received workers'comp benefits from Sanders.

Edens' representative appealed to the South Carolina Court of Appeals, but the appellate court disagreed, concluding that Milliken was Edens' statutory employer — one that hires a contractor's employees to do work that is identical to work done by the company's employees. "If a worker is properly classified as a statutory employee, his sole remedy for work-related injuries is to seek relief under the Workers' Compensation Act," the court stated.

Edens v. Bellini, 597 S.E.2d 863 (S.C.App. 2004), Court of Appeals of South Carolina, June 1, 2004.

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