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Injured worker has to prove company is secondarily liable in workers' comp claim

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The Indiana Court of Appeals split in deciding a workers’ compensation claim concerning who had the burden to prove whether the true value of work exceeded $1,000 and, therefore, triggered secondary liability.

Jason Young sued Hood’s Gardens after he was severely injured and rendered a paraplegic after trying to remove a stump from the greenhouse’s property. Hood’s had contracted with Discount Tree Extraction a/k/a D & E Tree Extraction to remove a hickory tree. The tree service was paid $600 and allowed to keep the wood.

Since Discount Tree did not carry workers’ compensation coverage, Young sought the benefits from Hood’s. He argued the value of the wood exceeded $400 increasing the value of the work to $1,000, which would have made Hood’s secondarily liable for the workers’ compensation benefits.

Hood’s countered that it was not secondarily liable because the value of the work performed was less than $1,000.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Hood’s and the Court of Appeals affirmed in Jason Young v. Hood’s Gardens, Inc., 29A02-1303-PL-298.
 
The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court’s interpretation of the state’s workers’ compensation statute as requiring parties to agree before the work begins that the project will exceed $1,000 and thus trigger secondary liability. Otherwise, the trial court reasoned, companies would be unknowingly exposing themselves to liability depending on the value of scrap they want removed from their property.

“The statute specifies that it is the contractor who furnishes the performance of work in excess of $1,000 in value, rather than any value provided by the contractee,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote for the majority. “Thus we interpret the statute to base secondary liability only upon the value provided by the contractor.”

Judge James Kirsch dissented, contending Hood’s – not Young – had the burden of establishing that the value of the work, which included the wood, did not exceed $1,000. Instead Hood’s did not provide any evidence showing that the value of the wood did not top $400.

Kirsch voted to reverse summary judgment and remand for further proceedings.  

 

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