Minister's Injury Challenges Workers' Compensation Immunity
Obtained a defense verdict in a case tried in Florida involving a minister from New York who was seriously injured in an auto accident while performing disaster relief work in Florida. The minister plaintiff was allegedly an independent contractor of a religious and charitable organization. His injury resulted in the loss of his leg and he claimed to suffer from PTSD and depression. The organization to which he was contracted is organized into separate territories, including a New York corporation and a Georgia corporation. After the accident, the minister received indemnity and medical workers' compensation benefits from the workers' compensation carrier for the New York corporation, but he asserted that, because he never petitioned for those benefits, he was not estopped from bringing a negligence lawsuit in Florida against the Georgia corporation (our client) which owned the vehicle in which he was riding at the time of the accident.
The case involved issues of whether the minister was an employee or independent contractor of the New York corporation; whether he was an independent contractor or borrowed servant of the Georgia corporation; whether the driver of the vehicle in which the minister was riding was a borrowed servant of the Georgia corporation; and whether the minister was a volunteer of the Georgia corporation for purposes of Florida's Workers' Compensation Act. Prior to trial, the judge had denied multiple motions for summary judgment filed by the parties. Halfway through the trial, the parties agreed to waive their right to a jury trial, and the remainder of the case was tried before the judge alone. Three months later, the judge issued her opinion on these issues, ruling that the Georgia corporation enjoys workers' compensation immunity.