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The resolution of a New York man's workers compensation claim does not prevent his related negligence lawsuit from moving forward because, though the arguments presented in each case are similar, they are not identical, New York's high court ruled Tuesday.
Jose Verdugo worked as a food delivery person, and was hit in the head by a sheet of plywood that fell from a Manhattan building in 2003, court records show. Mr. Verdugo received workers comp for injuries to his head, neck and back, as well as for psychological injuries.
In 2004, Mr. Verdugo also filed a personal injury lawsuit against the building's owner, Seven Thirty One L.P., records show. The workers comp insurer for Mr. Verdugo's employer filed to discontinue Mr. Verdugo's workers comp benefits, and New York's Workers' Compensation Board ultimately ruled in the insurer's favor, finding that Mr. Verdugo's work-related disability had ended as of January 2006.
Based on the workers comp decision, Seven Thirty One sought to dismiss Mr. Verdugo's liability lawsuit, arguing that the tort case would be “relitigating” the disability issue that was decided by the workers comp board, records show. The New York Supreme Court, which is the state's appellate court, granted Seven Thirty One's motion.
An appellate division of the state supreme court found that Mr. Verdugo's workers comp case did not preclude him from proceeding with his liability case, records show. However, the New York Court of Appeals, which is the state's high court, ruled 4-1 in February that the liability case should not proceed because Mr. Verdugo had a “full and fair” opportunity to argue his case in the workers comp proceedings.
In a rehearing of the case, the New York high court unanimously vacated the February ruling on Tuesday. The court based its opinion on the concept of collateral estoppel, which allows parties to prevent lawsuits that are identical to separate cases that were decided in a “full and fair” matter by the same court.
In its ruling Tuesday, the high court found that Seven Thirty One failed to prove that Mr. Verdugo's liability case was identical to his workers comp case.
A “negligence action is much broader in scope. It is intended to make an injured party whole for the enduring consequences of his or her injury — including, as relevant here, lost income and future medical expenses. Necessarily, then, the negligence action is focused on the larger question of the impact of the injury over the course of plaintiff's lifetime. Although there is some degree of overlap between the issues being determined in the two proceedings, based on the scope and focus of each type of action, it cannot be said that the issues are identical,” the ruling reads.