Getting workers’ compensation from an employer is already difficult, but it is even more so when the claim is filed in the wrong court. Although employees are entitled to workers’ compensation, the claim has to be filed in the correct jurisdiction. The following case shows what happens when you are injured while working and attempt to file a claim for workers’ compensation in a state where you were not employed.
Louisiana resident Lemcy Cortez was hired by Triple F Oil Field Service, LLC, to drive trucks in Oklahoma. The day after he arrived in Oklahoma, Cortez was involved in an automobile accident that allegedly led to elbow and back injuries. He filed a Disputed Claim for Compensation in the Louisiana Office of Workers’ Compensation (OWC) against Triple F and its insurer for workers’ compensation benefits which he alleged his employer refused to pay. Triple F and its insurer claimed Cortez lacked subject matter jurisdiction. Triple F believed Cortez was hired in Oklahoma, and Cortez believed he was hired in Louisiana.
Cortez claimed he was hired over the phone in Louisiana, but in his recorded statement to the insurance company’s interviewee, he stated he was hired by Triple F in Oklahoma. Cortez offered two affidavits to support his position that he was hired in Louisiana. In the first, he claimed he contacted Triple F about the job while he was in Louisiana. He claimed he was contacted by Triple F in Louisiana when he was offered the job and accepted it over the phone. In the second, he claimed the company’s Vice President called him to offer him the job, and he knew Cortez lived in Louisiana. In addition, he claimed he understood he had been officially hired by Triple F at that point, and the company had made living arrangements for his move to Oklahoma.
Triple F claimed Cortez couldn’t have been hired over the phone because to be hired, the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration required a new driver to have a “clean” Motor Vehicle Report, pass a road test, complete an application with questions from FMCSA, and a negative drug screen. In addition, the arranged living accommodations, with no reimbursement for travel expenses, were for all awaiting road test results and drug screen results. The trial court agreed there was a lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and the claimant appealed.
Cortez raised three issues on appeal: the trial court erred in finding a lack of subject matter jurisdiction, determining there was no contract of hire in Louisiana, and giving weight to his opinion on where he was hired. Subject matter jurisdiction is the legal power and authority of the court to hear and decide a certain action or proceeding, and the OWC has jurisdiction over workers’ compensation cases (La. C.C.P. art. 2; La. Const. Art. V, § 16). Under La. R.S. 23:1035.1, an employee who is injured outside of the state while working is still subject to Louisiana workers’ compensation benefits as long as, at the time of the injury, his employment was localized within the state or the contract for hire he is working under was made in the state.
The appeals court stated when Cortez was asked by the insurance company where he was hired he stated he was hired in Oklahoma. In addition, he was told he would be hired if he went to Oklahoma and applied for the job, passed the road test, had a negative drug test, and had a clean MVR. The appeals court found the trial court’s decision reasonable. It could not say that it was manifestly erroneous and that there was no error in its decision that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the claim. The court affirmed the trial court’s decision.
Obtaining workers’ compensation from employers is difficult, especially if you are from a different state and injured soon after being hired. This case highlights the difficulties with seeking workers’ compensation in a state where you were not hired due to a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Lemcy Cortez was not hired in Louisiana but in Oklahoma, creating a lack of subject matter jurisdiction in the state of Louisiana under the state’s laws. This case emphasizes the importance of filing a lawsuit in the proper jurisdiction for a better chance of receiving workers’ compensation benefits.
Written by Berniard Law Firm writer Alivia Rose
Additional Berniard Law Firm Article on Workers’ Compensation: Can An Undocumented Worker Receive Workers’ Compensation Benefits?