Double Recovery in Helicopter Injury Case?

helicopter_adac_rescue_helicopter-scaledIf you do a favor for your boss outside of work and are injured, can you still sue for workers’ compensation benefits? This is a complex question dependent on the facts of a case. Workers’ compensation is only available for injuries suffered during employment. If the court finds that the favor was outside the scope of employment, an injured employee may only recover tort damages. In the following case, the appellate court reversed a finding of workers’ compensation in favor of tort liability. In this case, the injured worker fought against a reduction of award to offset the workers’ compensation benefits already paid to the plaintiff. 

LaFayette truck driver Tommie Hebert was employed by Industrial Helicopters, Inc. as a commercial fuel transporter for nearly 30 years. Industrial Helicopters primarily served as an aerial herbicide application company. The owner of Industrial Helicopters also owned Game Management, Inc. Game Management leased hunting land and operated deer tracking and capturing surveys. His boss’s son asked Herbert to work as a deer netter on a Game Management helicopter survey. During the survey, Herbert fell from the helicopter to the ground and was seriously injured. The status of workers’ compensation became muddled because of the dual businesses. 

Hebert was originally granted workers’ compensation benefits because he was found to be within the scope of his job at Industrial Helicopters when he fell. On appeal, Hebert was conversely found to be outside the scope of employment during the deer netting. Industrial Helicopters was only liable for tort damages based on this finding. Hebert additionally motioned for his court costs to be paid by the defendant. 

Employers that pay out workers’ compensation benefits and are also found liable for tort damages are entitled to an offset of costs. Gagnard v. Baldrige. A credit may be given towards tort damages to the extent that workers’ compensation has been paid. Louisiana legal principles bar double recovery on a single claim. Albert v. Farm Bureau Ins. Co. Court costs assessed by lower courts may only be overturned upon a finding of abuse of discretion. Trahan v. Plessala

Industrial Helicopters had already paid the workers’ compensation damages while the appeal was being litigated. The Court, therefore, held that the defendant was entitled to a full credit to offset the assessed tort damages. Herbet had already recovered workers’ compensation damages equal to the tort damages found on appeal and was therefore barred from double recovery.  The Court also found that the lower court had abused its discretion in ruling Herbet responsible for his court costs. Therefore, Herbert had prevailed on the tort claim and should not have been required to pay his court fees.

This case may initially read as an injustice to Hebert, a long-time employee severely injured while doing a favor for his boss’s son. However, in this case, the complicated legal proceedings obscure that Hebert was fully compensated for his injury through workers’ benefits. General notions of judicial fairness implore courts to balance the interests of all parties, even in favor of a corporation over an individual. Though Hebert did not receive his sought double recovery, he was successful on his court costs claims and likely received just compensation for his injuries. 

Additional Sources: HEBERT V. RICHARD

Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Corrinne Yoder-Mulkey

Additional Berniard Law Firm Articles on Workers’ Compensation: When Can I File a Tort Lawsuit against my Employer if I am Hurt at Work in Louisiana?

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