Even while an inmate, you are still entitled to damages if you are injured on the job. If you are injured while working in a release program, are you entitled to compensation through the workers’ compensation scheme?
Lindsey French was serving a sentence for drug and firearm charges at the detention center in Claiborne Parish, Louisiana. Inmates at the detention center could be released to work for the police as part of the highway maintenance crew. French volunteered to join the crew. While on the crew, French was responsible for operating a tractor.
One day, the tractor French was using hit a tree stump. French was not wearing his seat belt. He fell through an opening in the tractor and fractured his pelvis.
French filed a lawsuit against the police. He claimed the police were liable for not training inmates how to operate the tractors, not adequately supervising the inmates, not adequately inspecting the area where they were working, telling inmates it was more dangerous to wear a seatbelt, and not maintaining the tractor.
The police filed a summary judgment motion claiming it was immune under La. R.S. 15:708, which governs prisoner workday release programs. The police alternatively argued French’s only remedy against them was workers’ compensation. French claimed he was not employed by the police and was more like a volunteer. The trial court granted the police’s summary judgment motion, explaining French’s sole remedy was workers’ compensation. French filed an appeal.
When courts determine if an employee-employer relationship exists, the main factors are the right of control and supervision. Prior cases have held work release inmates to be employees of the place where they work. See Reynolds v. Louisiana Plastic.
Here, the police could dismiss inmates such as French from working on the crew if they were unable to perform their job duties. For example, the police would sometimes dismiss workers who were found to not be able to operate the tractors. The police also had control over the inmates from the time they picked them up until the time they returned them to the detention center. They also supervised the inmates while they were working. The police provided the inmates with training on how to operate the tractors and provided the work location and equipment the inmates used. Therefore, the police controlled the inmate’s training and supervision and could dismiss inmates from working on the crew.
The appellate court rejected French’s arguments he was a volunteer for the police because he was not expecting compensation. Here, French was being monetarily compensation for his service, even if the payment did not come directly from the police. Further, even if he had not been compensated for his services, that alone would not be determinative of whether he was an employee.
Based on the evidence presented, there did not appear to be a disputed factual issue of whether French was employed by the police. Therefore, the appellate court held the trial court did not err in granting the police’s summary judgment motion because French’s sole remedy for his injuries was through the workers’ compensation system.
It can sometimes be complicated to determine if you are in an employee-employer relationship, such that you are entitled to workers’ compensation. A good attorney can advise you on relevant factors and how that affects your potential legal remedies.
Additional Sources: Lindsey French v Claiborne Parish Police Jury and Sheriff
Article Written By Berniard Law Firm
Additional Berniard Law Firm Article on Inmate Release Programs: Inmate Injured on Work Release in Chopin Denied Damages from Sheriff and Department of Corrections