Worker’s Comp Issues

Workers’ Compensation Law § 1 applies to injuries that occur in the workplace, including death, regardless of whether the injury is a result of the employer’s negligence or not.  The worker’s compensation statutes provide for compensation to employees if they are injured in the course of their employment.  This is the sole remedy available to employees for work related injuries, and aside from a worker’s compensation claim, employees cannot bring suit against their employers for such work related injuries.

The first step in determining whether an employee is covered by the worker’s compensation law is whether the person is actually an “employee”, or an independent contractor, subcontractor’s employee etc.  A key element in determining who is the employee and who is the employer in the relationship is who was controlling and directing the employee’s work at the time he was injured.  A general employee of one employer may also be considered the “special employee” of another, in which case the latter may be responsible for the worker’s injuries under the worker’s compensation laws, while the former employer may be liable in tort.  A special employee is described as one who is transferred by their general employer for a limited time to the service of another.  In Thompson v Grumman Aerospace Corp., 78 N.Y.2d 553, 578 N.Y.S.2d 106 (1991), the contract between the employee and the general employer provided for the employee to be employed by the general employer, but this provision alone was insufficient to establish that the employee was not also a special employee of a subcontractor on the job.  The general employer was responsible for the payment and employee benefits of the employee, but the remainder of the components of the work relationship existed between the employee and the subcontractor, as this was who the employee was assigned to work under.  The employee reported daily to the subcontractor, who directed, instructed, assigned, and controlled his work responsibilities.  The work the employee did was solely in furtherance of the subcontractor’s business at the general employer’s facility.  The subcontractor could not reassign the employee, and was the only one within the company who could terminate the employee’s employment.  Therefore the court found that the employee was considered the special employee of the subcontractor, as the subcontractor was the one who had direct control over the employee’s work, and therefore the employee was only entitled to recover from the subcontractor under worker’s compensation law when he was injured on the job.

Generally, pursuant to workers’ compensation laws, third parties are barred from bringing suit against the injured party’s employer, with the exception being a “grave injury” of the employee.  What is considered a “grave injury” is defined in N.Y. Workers’ Compensation Law §11, and is limited to “death, permanent and total loss of use or amputation of an arm, leg, hand or foot, loss of multiple fingers, loss of multiple toes, paraplegia or quadriplegia, total and permanent blindness, total and permanent deafness, loss of nose, loss of ear, permanent and severe facial disfigurement, loss of an index finger or an acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force resulting in permanent total disability”.

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