Direct employment is the traditional and most common employer-employee relationship. But what happens when a statutory employee is injured on a work site? A statutory employee is an employee as defined by a state’s statute. While the employer is not the direct employer, the employer becomes the employer of record by force of law. Any worker injured while in the course and scope of employment for a statutory employer must be extended the same protection and benefits as those owed to the employees of the direct employer. This slip-and-fall accident case out of Tangipahoa Parish further describes the rights of Louisiana’s statutory employees in workers’ compensation cases.
Devon Energy Production Company, L.P. (“Devon”) was involved in the drilling of a well in Kentwood, Louisiana. Devon entered into an agreement with Asset Security for it to provide security services for Devon at the drilling site. The agreement provided that Devon was to be considered the statutory employer of Asset Security’s employees for purposes of La. R.S. 23:1061(A)(3) and Devon was entitled to the Louisiana protections that are afforded a statutory employer. On July 16, 2012, Ms. Shannon Robinson Kazerooni slipped and fell from the stairs when exiting the mobile trailer at the drilling site. Ms. Kazerooni was a reserve deputy with the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office, which had an agreement with Asset Security to provide police officers for security assignments.
Ms. Kazerooni filed a lawsuit against Devon, alleging that the accident and her resulting injuries were caused by Devon’s negligence, and Monster Rentals, LLC, (“Monster”), alleging that Monster provided a defective trailer. Devon asserted the affirmative defense that Devon was the statutory employer of Ms. Kazerooni and that Ms. Kazerooni’s exclusive remedy was workers’ compensation benefits pursuant to LSA-R.S. 23:1061. Devon filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Ms. Kazerooni was a statutory employee pursuant to the agreement between Devon and Asset Security and that Devon was immune from suit for tort damages because Ms. Kazerooni’s exclusive remedy was workers’ compensation benefits from Devon. On October 14, 2015, the trial court granted Devon’s motion for summary judgment. Ms. Kazerooni appealed the trial court’s decision to the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal, arguing that there was an unresolved genuine issue of material fact as to whether she was a statutory employee because she was merely a volunteer.
The Louisiana First Circuit considered whether there was any genuine issue of material fact concerning Devon’s status as a statutory employer of Ms. Kazerooni. If Devon was in-fact Ms. Kazerooni’s statutory employer, then Ms. Kazerooni’s exclusive remedy was workers’ compensation. In Louisiana, pursuant to La. R.S. 23:1061(A)(1)(a), the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Act applies to direct employer/employee relationships and statutory employer/employee relationships. Pursuant to La. R.S. 23:1061(A)(3), if there is a written contract that recognizes a statutory employer relationship, there is a presumption of a statutory employer relationship between the principal and the contractor’s direct or statutory employees that may be rebutted by showing that the work is not an integral part of or essential to the ability to generate that individual principal’s goods, products or services.
The Louisiana First Circuit noted that the agreement between Devon and Asset Security stated that Devon was the statutory employer of Asset Security employees. Thus, if Ms. Kazerooni was an employee of Asset Security, Devon was presumed to be her statutory employer. In support of the motion for summary judgment, Devon submitted Ms. Kazerooni’s testimony that she was paid by Asset Security while working at the Devon drilling site. In opposition to the motion for summary judgment, Ms. Kazerooni submitted excerpts from the deposition of Deputy James Travis, the accreditation manager for the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Department. Deputy Travis explained that the difference between full-duty officers and reserve duty officers is that reserve officers are provided a supplemental insurance policy and may go on paid details.
The Louisiana First Circuit found no support from Deputy Travis’s testimony in Ms. Kazerooni’s argument that she was a volunteer at the time she was injured. Instead, the evidence established that Ms. Kazerooni was on a paid detail with Asset Security to provide security at Devon’s drilling site. In addition, under La. R.S. 23:1061(A)(3) and the plain language of the agreement, Devon was presumed to be the statutory employer of Ms. Kazerooni. Ms. Kazerooni had the burden to rebut Devon’s showing by demonstrating that the work that she was performing was not an integral part or essential to Devon’s ability to generate its goods, products, or services. Because Ms. Kazerooni did not produce evidence to rebut Devon’s showing, the Louisiana First Circuit found no error in the trial court’s determination that Devon was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
The Louisiana First Circuit ultimately affirmed the trial court’s judgment granting Devon Energy’s motion for summary judgment. Because Devon was presumed to be the statutory employer of Ms. Kazerooni, workers’ compensation benefits were her only available remedy for her injuries as a result, not tort damages.
Individuals need lawyers who have the experience and knowledge to determine the applicable laws for particular causes of action. A good lawyer is extremely necessary to handle the complexities involved in workers’ compensation cases.
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