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Worker with chemical burns cannot pursue negligence claim

Posted On: Oct. 15, 2020 1:42 PM CST


A man who sustained chemical burns to his feet while performing work on the premises of a client company cannot pursue his negligence claims against the client because he’s barred by the exclusivity provision of the state’s Workers Compensation Act.

In Morris v. Graphic Packaging International LLC, 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans on Monday dismissed the man’s argument that because no signed contract existed between his employer and the client, that the client could not be considered a statutory employer.

Brandon Morris worked for Ruston, Louisiana-based construction and maintenance firm ML Smith Jr. LLC. While assembling a tank at paper manufacturer Graphic Packaging International LLC, he stepped in blackish fluid on the ground and sustained chemical burns on both feet. He received workers compensation benefits from Zurich Insurance Group Ltd., which was ML Smith’s workers comp insurer.

Mr. Morris sued Graphic Packaging for his injuries, but a district court granted summary judgment. Mr. Morris appealed, arguing that Graphic Packaging was not his statutory employer because ML and Graphic Packaging had a purchase order with terms and conditions — not a signed written contract as is required under Louisiana law for statutory employees.

The appellate court rejected his claims and affirmed the district court’s ruling. The court found that the purchase order did satisfy Louisiana statutes because it clearly stated that Graphic Packaging was Morris’s statutory employer for services performed at its facilities in Louisiana. Although the order was not signed, the court held that the plain written text of the statute does not require a signed contract, just a “written contract.”