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Exclusive remedy bars family's bad-faith claim against son's workers comp insurer


An Indiana man cannot sue an insurer for the emotional distress that he believes caused his wife’s death while the couple handled their son’s workers compensation case, an Indiana appellate court has ruled.

Ronald Matthew Wadsack worked for Mills Tree Service, according to court records. He was electrocuted and severely burned after coming into contact with a tree limb that touched a power line.

The worker’s parents, Ronald J. Wadsack and Hazel Wadsack, were appointed as temporary guardians of the younger Mr. Wadsack after he was hospitalized. In court records, they argued a claims handler for Amerisafe Risk Services Inc. denied workers comp benefits for their son and interfered with their guardianship duties.

In June 2010, the elder Mr. Wadsack sued Amerisafe in Indiana’s Washington County Circuit Court, claiming that Amerisafe’s actions caused “extreme emotional distress” for him and his wife and ultimately caused Mrs. Wadsack’s death. However, the court dismissed the case without an explanation, records show.

A three-judge panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals dismissed an appeal from the Wadsack family in a Nov. 9 decision. It said that workers comp is the exclusive remedy for the senior Mr. Wadsack and his wife's estate.

In its opinion, the court said the exclusivity provision of Indiana's workers comp law includes bad-faith claims against insurers, and that the provision extends to a worker’s representatives or next of kin. The decision also noted that the Wadsacks’ negligence claim is “intimately tied” to their son’s work injury and his workers comp claim.

The appellate court ruled that Wadsacks’ complaint should be considered by the Indiana Worker’s Compensation Board.