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COA: Independent contractor's death already compensated

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has determined that the estate of an independent contractor who fell off a ladder and died was properly compensated through the state workers' compensation act, and the man’s estate cannot later claim that his injuries occurred outside the scope of employment.

In The Estate of Donald Eugene Smith v. Joshua Stutzman d/b/a Keystone Builders, No. 43A01-1103-PL-136, an appellate panel affirmed the judgment of Kosciusko Superior Judge Duane Huffer in dismissing the estate’s lawsuit brought against Keystone Builders.

The case involved Eugene Smith, who worked at Keystone Builders and, in March 2010, fell 20 feet off a ladder, broke his neck and died. The man’s widow and estate later reached an agreement that Smith’s workers’ compensation claim would be settled for a lump-sum payment of $100,000. But in October 2010, the estate filed a complaint against Joshua Stutzman alleging that Smith’s death was a direct result of Stutzman’s negligence in maintaining a safe work premises. Since Smith was an independent contractor and not an official employee, the estate argued that the claim was allowed.

The trial court entered a default judgment against Stutzman, but later determined after a hearing to dismiss the case in Stutzman’s favor because the Worker’s Compensation Board has exclusive jurisdiction.

Applying its own caselaw about workers’ compensation coverage, the appellate panel also relied on Sims v. U.S. Fidelity & Guar. Co., 782 N.E.2d 345, 349-350 (Ind. 2003), where the justices noted that the act’s exclusivity provision bars a court from hearing any common law action brought by an employee for the same injury.

On the issue of whether Smith was an employee or not, the appellate judges noted that the parties expressly agreed to resolve those differences by entering into a settlement agreement.

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  1. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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