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Dismissal of worker injury suit against subsidiary reversed


A subsidiary of Dillard’s Inc. has not proven it is immune to a lawsuit by a worker who tripped on her way out of the store, an appeals court in Kentucky ruled Friday in reversing a grant of summary judgment based on the state’s exclusive remedy provisions.

When she fell in 2019, Betty Oard was working part-time at the Dillard’s department store in the Crestview Hills Town Center in Crestview Hills, Kentucky. The Higbee Co. owns this Dillard’s location and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Dillard’s Inc, and Dillard’s held a workers compensation insurance policy, which listed Higbee as a named insured, according to Oard v. The Higbee Company, filed in the Court of Appeals of Kentucky.

After filing a workers comp claim naming Dillard’s as her employer, which accepted the claim, she later filed a negligence lawsuit against Higbee and other parties associated with management of the property, not naming her direct employer Dillard’s as a defendant.

Higbee filed a motion for summary judgment, wherein it argued Kentucky immunized it from liability because of exclusive remedy. A circuit court agreed and granted summary judgment. 

The appeals court disagreed, stating that “Higbee's status as a wholly owned subsidiary of Dillard’s is not, on its own, enough for it to be immunized from suit.”

The court, on remanding the case back to a lower court, said there exists legal question on employment and that “(a)s to the first inquiry, Higbee was obviously not Oard’s direct employer. As Oard notes in her brief, Dillard’s paid her and directed her employment. Nothing in the record suggests Higbee ever provided directions to Oard or otherwise engaged with her as her employer. So, summary judgment in favor of Higbee was only proper if Higbee is a contractor — and therefore Oard’s statutory employer — as contemplated” by workers comp law in Kentucky.