Alabama Tort Claims Involving Workplace Conditions Are Precluded by the Exclusivity Doctrine
On August 9, 2013, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals released its decision in Devero v. North American Bus Industries, in which it upheld summary judgment in favor of North American Bus Industries (NABI) for various tort claims Devero alleged arose out of his employment with NABI.
In February of 2005, Devero and seven other employees of NABI filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Calhoun County, Alabama against NABI and two other defendants, PPG Industries and E.I. DuPont de Nemours, asserting claims of fraud, negligence, wantonness, failure to warn, civil conspiracy, and infliction of emotional distress stemming from alleged exposure to hazardous chemicals in the workplace at NABI. In January of 2006, the trial court entered an Order stating that all of the plaintiff’s claims against NABI were governed by the exclusivity provisions of the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act. The trial court ordered Devero to restructure his Complaint to state claims under the Act. Devero then filed a new Complaint for workers’ compensation benefits, asserting that he had been exposed to toxic chemicals, deadly solvents, and spray paint particles that had damaged his internal organs and caused him to develop peneumoconiosis. NABI filed an Answer denying all of Devero’s allegations and then moved for summary judgment, asserting that there was no evidence that Devero had been exposed to any toxic substances at work, and that there was no evidence to indicate that Devero suffered from any illness or occupational disease related to his employment. In support of its Motion for Summary Judgment, NABI submitted Devero’s deposition testimony, the medical records of Devero’s personal physician, and hospital records pertaining to Devero’s treatment for his alleged peneumoconiosis.
After consideration of all the evidence, the trial Court granted NABI’s Motion for Summary Judgment, finding that Devero had not presented any evidence of legal or medical causation for his alleged injuries and/or occupational disease. However, the trial Court’s Order did not contain specific findings of fact and conclusions of law addressing whether Devero was suffering from an injury or disease that occurred in and arose out of his employment with NABI.
Devero appealed. On appeal, the Court of Civil Appeals held that an Order granting a Motion for Summary Judgment in a workers’ compensation case need not contain findings of fact and conclusions of law, thus overturning a prior case of Farris v. St. Vincent’s Hospital, 624 So. 2d 183 (Ala. Civ. App. 1993). Devero also continued that the trial Court erred in failing to allow him to proceed with his tort claims, which he alleged were outside the scope of the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act. However, the Court of Appeals held that although Devero’s claims against NABI involved allegations of intentional or reckless conduct, those claims dealt with workplace conditions "within the bounds of an employer’s proper role", and therefore, those claims were precluded by the exclusivity provisions of the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The article was written by Charley M. Drummond, Esq. of Fish Nelson, LLC. Fish Nelson is a law firm located in Birmingham, Alabama dedicated to representing employers, self-insured employers, and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation cases and related liability matters. Drummond and his firm are members of The National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network (NWCDN). The NWCDN is a national and Canadian network of reputable law firms organized to provide employers and insurers access to the highest quality representation in workers’ compensation and related employer liability fields.
If you have questions about this article or Alabama workers’ compensation issues in general, please feel free to contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or (205) 332-3414.