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ST. LOUIS—A pending dispute over an employee's workers compensation claim could prevent Chrysler Group L.L.C. from using an exclusive remedy defense in a related civil lawsuit, a Missouri appellate court ruled Tuesday.
Kevin Cooper slipped and fell while working for Chrysler in March 2007, and filed for workers comp a week later, court records show. Mr. Cooper underwent surgery for his injuries in 2008, but Chrysler argues that the procedure was unrelated to Mr. Cooper's workplace accident.
Mr. Cooper also filed a civil lawsuit against Chrysler based on his 2007 injury. In that case, Chrysler claimed that workers comp was the exclusive remedy for Mr. Cooper.
However, Mr. Cooper argued that Chrysler's denial of workers comp benefits for his back surgery meant that the claim no longer fell under Missouri's exclusive remedy provisions for workers comp, records show.
He also contended that a 2005 reform of Missouri's workers comp law narrowed the state's definition of "accidental injury," and allowed workers to sue employers when their injuries weren't compensable.
A St. Louis County circuit court found in favor of Chrysler in the civil suit, though Mr. Cooper's workers comp claim was still pending.
The Missouri Court of Appeals ruled unanimously Tuesday that the circuit court erred in siding with Chrysler, because the Missouri Labor and Industrial Relations Commission has yet to rule whether Mr. Cooper's surgery should be covered by workers comp.
"Although the commission has exclusive jurisdiction to determine accidental injury, if it does not find an accidental injury, plaintiff should then be able to pursue his civil cause of action," the ruling reads. "That cause of action should not be terminated by summary judgment before the commission's decision."
The appellate court remanded Mr. Cooper's civil case back to circuit court, and ordered a stay of the proceedings until the state labor commission rules on Mr. Cooper's comp claim.