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COA affirms negligence action barred against woman’s employer

February 3, 2016

An employee who received workers’ compensation benefits for her injury on work property is barred by the Workers’ Compensation Act from filing a negligence lawsuit against her employer and its subsidiaries, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Wednesday.

Brenda Hall worked for Ameritech when she tripped on a snow-covered sign and injured her arm. She was awarded workers’ compensation benefits in September 2009. Hall then sued Dallman Contractors LLC, Shook LLC and AT&T Property Management, which was later substituted with AT&T Services Inc.

AT&T Services, which is 83 percent owned by AT&T Inc., argued Hall’s claim is barred under the exclusive remedy provision of the Act. The trial court agreed, but the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for further proceedings. The trial court again ruled in favor of AT&T Services after it presented evidence both it and Ameritech are subsidiaries of AT&T Inc., and therefore joint employers of Hall.

Ameritech is 100 percent owned by five state Bell Telephone companies, which are 100 percent owned by AT&T Teleholdings Inc., which is 100 percent owned by AT&T Inc.

Hall appealed, arguing the COA should strictly construe the statutory language and find that the Act’s definition of employer limits a “joint employer” to the subsidiaries of a single “parent corporation,” one that is a direct or immediate parent corporation, and any higher-tiered “parent” corporations should be excluded.

She also maintained that if none of the Bell companies holds a majority of shares of Ameritech, then AT&T Teleholdings should be deemed the parent corporation, not AT&T Inc. As such, AT&T Services and Ameritech would not be subsidiaries of the same parent corporation and therefore are not joint employers of Hall such that AT&T Services can assert the exclusive remedy provision of the Act.

AT&T Services claimed Ameritech is a third-tier subsidiary, and that the comments to the Indiana Business Corporation Law’s definition of subsidiary elaborates that the term “includes all ‘tiered’ subsidiaries.”

The COA agreed with AT&T Services that both Ameritech and AT&T Services are subsidiaries of AT&T Inc., so they should be considered joint employers pursuant to the Act’s definition of “employer.” Thus, Hall’s negligence action against AT&T Services is barred because she received workers’ compensation benefits from Ameritech.

The case is Brenda Hall v. Dallman Contractors, LLC, Shook LLC, and AT&T Services, Inc., 49A02-1502-CT-67.

 

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