Woman who severed finger on the job must seek redress via Worker’s Compensation Act

A woman whose finger was severed in an accident at an Elkhart County assembly plant must seek relief via the Indiana Worker’s Compensation Act after the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of her negligence complaint against the company she worked for at the time of the injury.

In Eshanya Walls v. Markley Enterprises, Inc., 18A-CT-266, temporary staffing agency Bridge Staffing, Inc. assigned Eshanya Walls to work for Markley Enterprises, Inc.’s Elkhart County assembly plant in the summer of 2014. Walls was injured the following October when she was pulled into the punch press she was operating, resulting in a finger on her right hand being crush and severed.

After Bridge’s insurer paid for all of Walls’ medical expenses and worker’s compensation benefits, Walls filed a complaint against Markley in May 2016, alleging she suffered injuries and mental distress “(a)s a direct and proximate result of Markley’s negligence.” Markley moved for summary judgment in October 2017, arguing that Walls was a joint employee of Bridge and Markley and that the only relief available to her was through the Worker’s Compensation Act.

The Elkhart Superior Court treated Markley’s motion as one for dismissal under Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(1) and granted the motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld that decision Tuesday, with Judge Rudolph Pyle writing first that under Indiana Code section 22-3-6-1(a), Walls was a joint employee of both Markley and Bridge at the time of her injury because Bridge “leased” Walls to Markley.

That finding means Walls was limited to the exclusive remedy provision in the Worker’s Compensation Act, Pyle said, rejecting Walls’ argument that Markley waived that provision pursuant to a client service agreement between Bridge and Markley. Walls specifically pointed to a provision in the agreement holding that Bridge “agrees to…[p]rovide workers’ compensation insurance coverage for all employees assigned to [Markley’s] facilities” and “[a]ssume full responsibility for…workers’ compensation claims involving assigned employees.”

“According to Walls, the ‘arrangement clearly intended that [Walls] would remain a Bridge employee – and only a bridge employee – while rendering services at Markley’s plant[, and that] Markley opted out of worker’s compensation rights and responsibilities,” Pyle wrote. But “(n)othing in the terms of the Agreement suggests that Markley intentionally relinquished its right.

“We, therefore, conclude that Markley did not waive its right to enforce the exclusive remedy provision of the Act, and the trial court did not err in finding the same,” Pyle said.

This article was first published by The Indiana Lawyer.

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