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LINCOLN, Neb.—An injured funeral home employee can sue her employer's real estate holding company for negligence, the Nebraska Supreme Court said, even though the company argued that workers compensation was the exclusive remedy in her case.
The high court ruled Friday that Darlene Howsden can seek damages from Roper Real Estate Co. Inc. of Lincoln, Neb., despite receiving workers comp benefits from funeral home operator Roper & Sons Inc. after falling down an elevator shaft. Roper Real Estate owns the funeral home properties run by Roper & Sons.
Roper Real Estate argued that workers comp should be the exclusive remedy in Ms. Howsden's case since the firm is owned by the same principals as Roper & Sons. However, the state supreme court said Roper Real Estate can be considered a third party in the case, mainly because the company did not employ Ms. Howsden.
"Roper's Real Estate is a legally separate entity from Roper & Sons, despite their corporate kinship, and there is no equitable basis in this record to justify piercing the corporate veil between the two entities," the decision reads.
Ms. Howsden was working inside of a funeral home purchased by Roper Real Estate in 2005 when she tried to walk through an elevator shaft that employees commonly used as a passageway, court records show. The elevator was on a higher floor at the time, and Ms. Howsden was seriously injured when she fell into the building's basement.
A lower court decision found that Ms. Howsden could be considered an employee of the real estate firm and Roper & Sons, which would limit her remedy in the case to workers comp benefits. However, the Nebraska Supreme Court said there was no evidence of dual employment that could prevent Roper Real Estate from being considered a third party in Ms. Howsden's injury.
"When two companies are corporations which benefit from legally recognized identities separate and apart from one another, they must also bear the responsibility and liability of such separation," the ruling reads.