Missouri workers’ compensation laws require mandatory coverage by employers for workplace injuries, without regard to fault. In exchange for providing such coverage, employers and their employees are granted immunity from civil actions arising out of workplace injuries. This is not limited to direct employees of the employer. The obligations and protections extend to “statutory employers” and “statutory employees.” A statutory employee is found where: (1) Work is being performed pursuant to a contract; (2) The injury occurred on or about the premises of the alleged statutory employer; and (3) when injured, the alleged statutory employee was performing work that was in the usual course of business of the alleged statutory employer.
An injured worker who fits the definition of a statutory employee has a right to recovery under Missouri workers compensation laws, and they are excluded from all other remedies they may have.
Section 287.040 RSMo. defines a company which hires an independent contractor as a statutory employer in order to prevent such a company from dodging workers’ compensation obligations by doing so. An independent contractor is further deemed to be the employer of the employees of its subcontractors and its subcontractor’s subcontractors. Thus, a statutory employer remains as such all the way down an unbroken chain of contractors and subcontractors.
Because the exclusivity provision of Missouri workers’ compensation law extends to subcontractors and their employees, a thorough evaluation of the relationship between parties is important when defending a personal injury claim which arises out of a workplace incident. A plaintiff and a defendant who work for different companies may still be deemed statutory co-employees, making applicable the affirmative defense that the plaintiff’s exclusive remedy lies within the workers’ compensation laws.
Article written by Associate Attorney Ben Warren | Gausnell, O’Keefe & Thomas