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Idaho high court says contractor is not an employer


The Supreme Court of Idaho on Friday reversed an earlier district court ruling finding that a company contracted to build steel mezzanines for a sugar processor is not protected by exclusive remedy in a lawsuit filed by a worker who fell when a railing gave out.

In 2017, Mitchell Smith was employed by Amalgamated Sugar Co. in Nampa, Idaho, as a pipefitter’s assistant when his employer contracted with Excel Fabrication LLC to help build parts of the company’s new sugar tanks as an “independent contractor,” as designated in its contract, according to Mitchell Smith v. Excel Fabrication LLC.

During the project’s installation, Mr. Smith fell “a substantial distance when the handrail fabricated by Excel gave out, causing him to injure his shoulder.” Amalgamated paid his workers comp benefits. Mr. Smith sued Excel alleging that Excel had been “negligent in its welding of the handrail to the stairs.”

Excel, claiming it was Mr. Smith’s employer and was protected by exclusive remedy, successfully had the case dismissed in district court. The state’s highest court reversed, writing that the district court had erred by misapplying law in determining whether a contractor can be considered an employer.

“Excel has not argued, nor does it appear the facts would establish, that it is exempt from liability,” the ruling states, adding that fact establishes “that Excel is a third party who may be sued for Smith’s injuries.”