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A truck driver who was injured while delivering goods to a third-party company can proceed with his tort lawsuit against the firm because the company could not prove it was an exempt contractor under Kentucky workers compensation exclusivity rules, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled.
Steve Black worked as a truck driver for Nashville, Tenn.-based Western Express Inc., according to court records. In July 2008, he was delivering a shipment of rolled paper to a Dixie Consumer Products L.L.C. plant in Bowling Green, Ky., when a Dixie employee ran over his left foot with a fork lift. Mr. Black's leg later was amputated below the knee.
Mr. Black received workers comp from Western and later filed a tort lawsuit against Dixie and the firm's parent company, Georgia-Pacific Consumer Product Holdings L.L.C., in U.S. District Court, records show. Dixie and Georgia-Pacific contested the suit based on workers comp exclusivity rules, arguing that they were immune to tort liability under Kentucky comp law as a “contractor” of Mr. Black's employer.
Mr. Black argued that Dixie could not be classified as a contractor, partly because the company could not show that Dixie performed shipping or transportation work for Western. However, the U.S. District Court in Bowling Green, Ky., sided with Dixie and Georgia-Pacific, saying they qualified as “contractors” for Western and “employers” of Mr. Black under Kentucky workers comp law.
The 6th District unanimously reversed that decision Friday. In its ruling, the court found that neither Dixie nor Georgia-Pacific qualified as contractors of Western that would be immune to tort suits under Kentucky law.
While Western transported raw materials between Georgia-Pacific subsidiaries, including Dixie, the appeals court said Dixie and Georgia-Pacific could not show that transportation was part of the work that their own employees were expected to perform.
The case was remanded to district court for further proceedings.