Isabella v. Koubek – Workers’ Compensation and Car Accident Injuries

Anderson car accident lawsuits can be complicated when any of the involved motorists were working at the time of the wreck. curvesahead.jpg

Workers’ compensation laws can bar injured parties from pursuing some types of negligence claims, and defendants in some cases can be prohibited from filing third-party contribution claims of vicarious negligence against vehicle owners where the at-fault driver is protected by workers’ compensation laws. Seeking counsel from a law firm that handles both car accident injury and workers’ compensation claims can help you to maximize your opportunity for complete compensation.

The recent case of Isabella v. Koubek, reviewed by the New York Court of Appeals, illustrates how complicated these matters can become.

According to court records, a woman was driving her male co-worker, the plaintiff, back from a business meeting in vehicle that was owned by her husband, the third-party defendant. During this trip, the woman collided with a vehicle driven by another woman, who was in a vehicle owned by her husband.

The male co-worker sustained serious injuries in the crash. However, he was barred from filing a claim against his co-worker under the state’s workers’ compensation law because she was a co-worker. Instead, he sought and received workers’ compensation benefits through their mutual employer.

Later, the man sued the driver of the other vehicle, alleging that he had suffered serious injury as a result of her negligent operation of the vehicle.

The driver of the other vehicle and her husband filed suit against the husband of the female co-worker/driver, asserting that the accident was the result of her negligence and that her husband, as the owner of the car, was vicariously liable for negligent entrustment of the car to his wife.

The co-workers’ husband, the third-party defendant, responded that he was shielded from vicarious liability because his wife had statutory immunity under the state’s worker’s compensation law.

Initially, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York denied the third-party defendant’s claim, and allowed the claim to proceed.

Subsequently, the parties entered into a settlement agreement under which the injured male co-worker was to receive $800,000, plus interest, with a jury to apportion how much should be paid by each party, based on liability. They also agreed that if the appellate court reversed the earlier district court ruling and granted the third-party defendant’s motion for a summary judgment, the drivers of the other vehicle would pay the entire $800,000 award.

A jury determined the third-party defendant was 90 percent liable (based on the negligence of his wife) and the other driver was 10 percent liable. The third-party defendant appealed.

The appellate court certified a question to the higher court regarding whether a defendant could legally pursue a third-party contribution claim under the state law against the owner of a vehicle when the driver’s negligence was a substantial factor in the crash causing the plaintiffs injuries, but where the driver is protected under state workers’ compensation laws?

The court ruled the driver of the other vehicle could not pursue a third-party contribution claim against the owner of the vehicle. In other words, vicarious liability for the negligence of a driver who is immunized would upset the whole basis for workers’ compensation, which is to be the exclusive remedy for injured workers.

Although the other driver indicated it would be unfair to saddle her with 100 percent of the $800,000 liability to the male co-worker, given that a jury only apportioned her with 10 percent fault, the court ruled that burden is a consequence of joint and several liability under state law, which has long been upheld.

Contact the South Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Isabella v. Koubek, March 27, 2014, New York Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:
Pursuing Civil Lawsuit Amid Criminal Prosecution, March 25, 2014, Anderson Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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