Recent NV Supreme Court Decision Clears Way for Some Personal Injury Suits Against Contractors

Recent NV Supreme Court Decision Clears Way for Some Personal Injury Suits Against Contractors

Employees who are injured on the job normally only have one available avenue for recourse: A workers’ compensation claim. However, a recent decision by the Supreme Court of Nevada paves the way for injured employees to sue contractors in a limited number of situations. If you’ve been hurt on the job, your Reno personal injury lawyer can review the specifics of your situation and determine whether you have grounds for a lawsuit against a contractor.

Nevada Workers’ Comp Basics

Under Nevada workers’ compensation law, employers must provide no-fault workers compensation insurance for all employees beginning on a worker’s first day of employment. If a worker is injured on the job or suffers a job-related occupational health issue, compensation is provided by workers’ compensation insurance. These payments are intended to compensate an injured employee for:

  • Medical treatment
  • Time off of work
  • Permanent partial or total disabilities
  • Vocational Rehabilitation
  • Dependent’s benefits (if the worker dies)
  • Claims‐related expenses, such as transportation to and from medical appointments

Because workers’ compensation insurance is what is known as an “exclusive remedy,” injured employees cannot sue their employers in connected with job-related injuries or diseases.

Workers are also typically banned from suing co-workers, contractors or independent contractors on the jobsite who may have share some responsibility for the injury. Specifically, if the subcontractor or independent contractor who caused the accident is in the same trade, profession or occupation as the injured worker, then the subcontractor or independent contract is treated as an employee who cannot be sued in connection with workplace injuries. Instead, all claims must be resolved through the insurance program.

That’s what makes the Supreme Court’s decision in D & D Tire, Inc. v. Ouellette noteworthy: It clarified the circumstances under which injured workers can file lawsuits against contractors.

Injured Workers May Be Able to Sue Contractors

In the case of D & D Tire, Inc. v. Ouellette, Jack R. Ouellette worked as a tire technician for Allied Nevada Gold Corporation, where he was responsible for installing, removing and repairing tires on mining equipment. Mr. Ouellette was driving a tire changing boom truck – owned by a company called Purcell Tire & Rubber Company and leased the truck to Mr. Ouellette’s employee – when it malfunctioned. Mr. Ouellette called an independent repair company to fix the truck, and Purcell also sent its own tire technician, Ryan Wintle, to help with the repairs. In the course of fixing the truck, Mr. Wintle backed the truck up, hitting Mr. Ouellette, pinning him against a dumpster and injuring his shoulder.

After the accident, Mr. Ouellette filed a personal injury lawsuit against Purcell Tire & Rubber Company seeking compensation for his injures. Purcell argued that the lawsuit wasn’t permitted under Nevada’s workers’ comp laws because it was acting as an employee of Mr. Ouellette’s employer Allied Nevada. When the court found in Mr. Ouellette’s favor, Purcell appealed the case to the Supreme Court of Nevada.

Purcell argued to the court that Mr. Wintle, had a job similar to Mr. Ouellette’s, and therefore must be treated as an employee who could not be sued. It also argued that Mr. Wintle was simply moving the truck at the time of the accident, not performing a specialized repair.

The Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision and said that Mr. Ouellette was within his rights to sue Purcell Tire. Specifically, the court found that “an independent contractor is not immune from liability when performing specialized repairs.” It wrote:

“[T]o determine whether a subcontractor or independent contractor was engaged in a specialized repair … and therefore whether that subcontractor or independent contractor is liable for any injuries caused to workers during the course of that specialized repair, the court must consider the subcontractor or independent contractor’s activity leading to a worker’s injury within the context of their other actions, both before and after the injury, and not in isolation. In this case, we hold that Wintle’s presence at the mine for the purpose of a specialized repair was sufficient to establish that he was not acting as an employee of Allied at the time of the injury.”

Hire a Reno Personal Injury Lawyer to Handle Your Claim

If you’ve been injured in a workplace accident – or if a loved one was killed on the job – a Reno personal lawyer can guide you through the process of collecting workers’ compensation. Your attorney can also determine whether you have grounds for a lawsuit against any of the parties that may have played a role in your accident. For a free consultation on your personal injury or wrongful death case, call the Law Offices of Mathew L. Sharp at (775) 324-1500.