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Fairfax Circuit Court Allows Injury Claim Against Employer

Published by on February 19, 2010

In Kyle E. Skopic v. James Wesley Tate, II, et al., the Fairfax Circuit Court held that an employee who was deceased and had no dependants was not covered by workers’ compensation, and so his estate was not barred from bringing a civil action against the employer on his behalf.  More after the break. An employee of […]

In Kyle E. Skopic v. James Wesley Tate, II, et al., the Fairfax Circuit Court held that an employee who was deceased and had no dependants was not covered by workers’ compensation, and so his estate was not barred from bringing a civil action against the employer on his behalf.  More after the break.

An employee of Information Technology Solutions (“ITS”), Alejandro Ho, was riding with a fellow co-worker, James Tate, in Tate’s car when Tate lost control of the vehicle and caused it to overturn.  Ho died from injuries sustained in the accident shortly after.  Ho’s estate brought suit against ITS and Tate, alleging negligent hiring and retention.  ITS filed a claim with the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission, arguing that the accident arose out of Ho’s employment because Ho was on his way to a job site when the accident occurred.  After a series of appeals, it was found that the injury was a compensable injury.  ITS then filed a plea in bar in the civil suit.

In its opinion, the court began by stating that “[a] civil action is not barred if the Commission had no jurisdiction to hear the claim.”  The court looked to the language of the workers’ compensation statute as support for its conclusion that Ho did not meet the filing requirements under the statute as he had no dependents, was not a minor, and was not incapacitated or injured, and therefore his estate could not file a claim on his behalf.  The court further found that ITS could not file a claim on Ho’s behalf because the statute only allows for this in the event of a disagreement between the claimant and the employer.  Citing the Indiana statute (which formed the basis for the Virginia statue), the court concluded that an employee with no dependants is not covered by workers’ compensation, and therefore the Commission lacked jurisdiction over the claim.  The court then found that that the Commission’s decision was not binding on the court because the Commission lacked jurisdiction over the claim. 

Finally, the court addressed the question of whether an employer can use the statute to shield itself from liability, a potential consequence of ITS filing the workers’ compensation claim with the Commission.  The court stated that to allow ITS to escape liability would contravene the purpose behind the workers’ compensation statute, and overruled the plea in bar to allow the suit to proceed.

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