Contract for Hire in Alabama Does not Necessarily Mean Alabama Benefits
Ex parte Southern Erectors, Inc.
Petition for Writ of Mandamus
On February 21, 2014, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals granted Southern Erectors, Inc.’s (SEI) Petition for Writ of Mandamus. The trial court had denied SEI’s summary judgment motion that was based on the Alabama court not have subject matter jurisdiction over the on the job injury that occurred in Kansas. The Alabama Court Civil of Appeals agreed with SEI and remanded the case with an order to dismiss the workers’ compensation case based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
The employee lived in Alabama and learned of a job opening in 2010 with SEI in Wyoming. He left Alabama and traveled to Wyoming for the job. The plaintiff worked on several different job sites in various states over the year for SEI. In February of 2011, the employee, while in Alabama, learned of another job with SEI in Kansas. Once he was told the date he should arrive he left and, upon arrival, completed a new application, Kansas Employee’s Withholding Certificate and stayed in a Kansas Hotel while performing the job. On March 14, 2011 the employee was injured while performing his job in Kansas. He was provided benefits under Kansas Workers’ Compensation and even completed a Kansas Workers’ Compensation form.
On March 13, 2013, the employee file suit for workers’ compensation benefits under the Alabama Act. In agreeing with SEI and ordering that the workers’ compensation claim be dismissed, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals stated that the trial court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over the claim. The Court of Civil Appeals pointed out that in order for an out of state injury to be compensable under the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act the requirements of §25-5-35(d) must be met. Subsection (2) and (3) of this section applicable to this case state that benefits are owed for an injury that occurs out side of this state if benefits would have been owed had the injury occurred in Alabama, provided that at the time of injury (2) he was working under contract for hire made in this state in employment not principally localized in any state, and (3) he was working under a contract of hire made in this state in employment principally localized in another state whose workers’ compensation law was not applicable to his employer. The Court of Civil Appeals found that the employee impliedly accepted the job offer by traveling to Kansas. See Ex parte Robinson, 598 So. 2d 901, 904 (Ala. 1991). Therefore, the employee was under a contract for hired entered into in Alabama. However, the Court of Civil Appeals stated that this conclusion does not automatically mean that the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act applies. See Ex parte Fluor Corp., 960 So. 2d 701 (Ala. Civ. App. 2006). §25-5-35(d)(2)&(3) requires that the court also consider the principal location of the employment as defined in §25-5-35(b). The Supreme Court stated in Ex parte Flour Corp. that principally localized pursuant to §25-5-35(b) merely means the employee worked for the employer at a designated place within a state.
The Court of Civil Appeals considered the following factors to determine the principal location of employment in the present case: (1) the application was completed in Kansas, (2) work was being performed in Kansas at the time of injury, (3) he was living in a Kansas hotel at the time of the accident, (4) he completed Kansas tax withholding forms and (5) SEI was operating out of Kansas for that job creating a place of business there. For these reasons, the Court of Civil Appeals found that the employee’s employment was principally localized in Kansas. Therefore, §25-5-35(d)(2) would not apply because SEI was principally localized in Kansas and §25-5-35(d)(3) would not apply because there was no evidence that Kansas workers’ compensation laws were not applicable to SEI.
The Court of Civil Appeals rejected the employee’s argument that the employer had to have a permanent and continuous presence in the state to establish a principal location in the state (the employee had cited an Alabama Federal case that used this language but that case applied to venue and not §25-5-35(d)).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The article was written by Joshua G. Holden, Esq. a Member of Fish Nelson, LLC, a law firm dedicated to representing employers, self-insured employers and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation and related liability matters. Mr. Holden is AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating an attorney can receive. He has been selected as a "Rising Star" by Super Lawyers. He is the past Chair of the ABA/ TIPS Workers’ Compensation and Employers’ Liability Committee. Holden and his firm are members of The National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network (NWCDN). 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 205-332-1428.