Arkansas Supreme Court Discusses Sole-Remedy Provision of Workers’ Compensation Law, Dismissing Plaintiff’s Appeal

Last month, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case brought by a woman against her husband’s previous employer, alleging that her husband’s exposure to asbestos while on the job caused the cancer from which he ultimately died. In the case, Hendrix v. Alcoa, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s case because the sole remedy for her loss was through the state’s workers’ compensation program.

The Interplay Between Workers’ Compensation Claims and Personal Injury Claims

When someone is injured on the job due to the negligence of another party, there may be one or more potential claims available to the injured worker or their family. The workers’ compensation program is mandatory for many Arkansas employers and acts as a type of insurance for employers. If an employee is injured on the job, the employee can obtain workers’ compensation benefits without having to establish who was at fault for their injuries. However, workers’ compensation claims are mostly limited to medical expenses and lost wages, and these claims will not include compensation for pain and suffering.

In some situations, an injured worker’s eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits will not prevent that worker from filing a personal injury lawsuit against a negligent third party that caused the worker’s injuries. These “third-party” lawsuits are preferred for many injured workers because the potential recovery amount can be much greater, due to the availability of damages for the worker’s pain and suffering.

It is important to keep in mind that when a workers’ compensation claim is available to a would-be personal injury plaintiff, it is generally considered to be the injured worker’s sole remedy against the employer. However, if a third-party is at fault for the  injured worker’s injury, a personal injury lawsuit may be available against the third-party.

Hendrix v. Alcoa:  An Arkansas Court Rules in Favor of Employer in Workplace Injury Lawsuit

Hendrix died of asbestos-related cancer. It was undisputed that he had worked for the defendant corporation for approximately 30 years prior to his diagnosis and also that he was exposed to asbestos while on the job. While he was still alive, Hendrix filed for workers’ compensation benefits, but his claim was denied because it was filed after the applicable statute of limitations. Hendrix then died in 2013.

After Hendrix’s death, his wife filed a personal injury lawsuit against his former employer. In response, the employer claimed that the lawsuit was barred under state law because the sole remedy for the plaintiff was through the state’s workers’ compensation program. The court agreed, despite the fact that the remedy was not actually available to Hendrix or his wife at the time the personal injury case was filed. The court explained that Hendrix was technically eligible for workers’ compensation benefits at the time of his injury, but did not obtain those benefits because he failed to file his claim within the allotted time. Because the workers’ compensation claim was available, state law dictates that it was his sole remedy and he (or his wife) cannot later bring a personal injury lawsuit against that employer. As a result of this case, Hendrix’s wife will not be permitted to proceed with her personal injury claim against her husband’s former employer.

Have You Been Injured in a Workplace Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured at work due to the negligence, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. Almost certainly, the availability of workers’ compensation benefits will be an issue, and you will need a dedicated attorney familiar with these cases to assist you in the preparation of your case. At the Pfeifer Law Firm, we have decades of  experience representing clients in all types of personal injury cases, including those arising out of workplace accidents. Call 501-374-4440 to set up a free consultation today.

See More Posts:

13 Fatalities Reported in a USA Holiday Tour Bus Crash in California, Arkansas Injury Lawyer Blog, November 4, 2016.

Do Driverless Cars Decrease Car Accidents?, Arkansas Injury Lawyer Blog, July 13, 2016.

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