Unfortunately, accidents in the workplace are not uncommon. What happens, however, if you unknowingly signed an agreement making your employer immune from a liability claim? The following Lafourche Parish case outlines this predicament.
In September 2013, Neville Patterson signed multiple documents with Raceland Raw Sugar, LLC (RRS) and Raceland Equipment Company, LLC (REC) to haul sugar cane for the former. Included in this paperwork was an indemnification agreement identifying Patterson as the contractor and RES and RRS as statutory employers.
Two months later, Patterson created N-A-N Trucking, LLC (N-A-N) and started to operate his truck. Following this development, RRS began making checks from hauls payable to N-A-N. These checks were endorsed by Patterson, who continued to receive driver wages from REC.
The following month, Patterson was unloading the trailer at the RRS mill when a cable broke, forcing the trailer to fall on the truck and injure his back and neck. Patterson then filed a claim for damages, naming REC and RRS as defendants, asserting he was an employee of N-A-N, and claiming the accident that caused his injuries resulted from RRS’ and REC’s negligence. RRS and REC responded by claiming that Patterson was REC’s direct employee and RRS’ statutory employee, barring his claims via the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Act.
The 17th Judicial District Court for the Parish of Lafourche denied the motion submitted by RRS and REC, noting conflicting evidence on whether Patterson was a direct employee of REC and inconsistent evidence on whether the indemnification agreement showed that he was N-A-N’s employee or a contractor with REC and RRS. REC and RRS then renewed their motion for summary judgment.
In their renewal, RRS and REC claimed that Patterson was an independent contractor of both companies via a written agreement compliant with Louisiana law, conveying statutory employer status on RRS and REC and making them immune from civil tort liability. Patterson then argued that he was an employee of N-A-N and no contract existed between RRS and N-A-N.
The District Court then dismissed Patterson’s claims and granted summary judgment, finding the indemnification agreement signed by Patterson demonstrated a rebuttable presumption of a statutory employment relationship. The court also found Patterson, who had the burden of proving the relationship was severed when he formed N-A-N, failed to deliver any proof the contract was revoked under law. Patterson then filed an appeal with the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal.
Under La. R.S.23:1061, a statutory employer relationship does not exist unless a written contract between the principal and a contractor recognizes the principal as the statutory employer. Additionally, the contractually recognized relationship can be overcome by showing the work performed was not an integral or essential part of the generation of the principal’s goods, products, or services. Further, the employer seeking to avail itself of tort immunity holds the burden of proving it. See Fleming v. JE Merit Constructors, Inc.
The Court of Appeal found that Patterson entered into an indemnification agreement in his capacity, which listed him as a contractor. Additionally, because the agreement recognized RRS and REC as statutory employers and Patterson as an owner/operator, the Court of Appeal found it was unnecessary to enter into an additional contract following the formation of N-A-N. Next, as the court found the agreement between Patterson and RRS and REC conveyed a statutory employer status, there existed a rebuttable presumption of a statutory employer relationship. The Court of Appeal found Patterson failed to deliver proof to rebut this presumption by showing that hauling sugar cane to a sugar mill was not crucial to the ability of the principal to produce its products, goods, or services. As such, the District Court’s judgment was affirmed.
This case shows the importance of hiring an experienced attorney to review all employee-employer documents before signing them, as you may be entering into a relationship agreement that would bar you from receiving compensation in the case of an accident. The right attorney can also help you provide the evidence necessary to prove your lawsuit.
Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Samantha Calhoun
Additional Berniard Law Firm Articles on the Importance of Evidence in Workers’ Compensation Lawsuit: Workers’ Compensation Lawsuits and the Battle for Evidence — Louisiana Personal Injury Lawyer Blog