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Central Flying Serv. Inc. v. Circuit Court: Workers’ Compensation and Wrongful Death

Central Flying Serv. Inc. v. Circuit Court, an appeal from the Supreme Court of Arkansas, involved claimant who was killed in a plane crash. Claimant was a licensed pilot employed by an airline. He was to fly from Little Rock, Arkansas to Monroe, Louisiana, pick up passengers, and fly them to Beaumont, Texas.

propeller-1428908-m.jpgOn his flight from Louisiana to Texas, his plane crashed, and claimant and all three passengers were killed. Claimant’s estate filed a wrongful death civil action against employer on grounds he was not trained or certified to fly the particular aircraft he was flying the day of his crash. The aircraft involved in the deadly crash was a Beechcraft “Bonanza” A 36.

Estate alleged employer compelled claimant to fly the aircraft, despite his lack of certification. Estate filed claims based upon intentional torts, respondeat superior, and wrongful death, seeking both compensatory and punitive damages. As our Boston workers’ compensation attorneys can explain, respondeat superior is a doctrine of law that assigns liability for an employee’s negligent conduct to an employer.

Defendant answered estate’s complaint, and sought to have all claims dismissed, because they claimed, as an employee, his claim should have been made under workers’ compensation and not brought as civil action. Under the workers’ compensation act in most states, including the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, typically a worker injured on the job must file a claim under workers’ compensation and is precluding from filing a civil negligence lawsuit.

There are certain advantages to injured employees under the workers’ compensation system, as injured employees are not required to prove any negligence on behalf of employer, as is the case in a civil negligence lawsuit. It is only necessary to establish employee was injured while he or she was on the job.

In response to this, estate filed an amended complaint alleging the state’s entire workers’ compensation system was unconstitutional. Estate’s reason was its suit involved intentional torts rather than negligence-based torts, and, therefore, workers’ compensation was not an exclusive remedy. Defendant then filed a renewed motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, asserting again state court did not have jurisdiction to handle this case, because workers’ compensation was the exclusive remedy.

Trial court denied defendant’s motion to dismiss, and defendant immediately filed a writ of appeal to the state supreme court. Appellate court only looked at the issue of whether trial court entirely lacked jurisdiction to hear this matter.

When parties submitted their briefs, it became clear to appellate court estate did not challenge state law that made Workers’ Compensation an exclusive remedy, but rather estate was directly challenging the constitutionality of Workers’ Compensation system itself.

Appellate court first noted it had repeatedly upheld the exclusive remedy provision of the workers’ compensation act in past cases, including a requirement administrative law judge (ALJ) with Workers’ Compensation Commission must first determine if this action lies with the commission or a state court in a civil negligence action.

Ultimately, state supreme court sided with defendant and ruled exclusive original jurisdiction lied with the Workers’ Compensation Commission and granted defendant’s petition.

If you or someone you love has been injured a Boston work accident, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

More Blog Entries:
Moreau v. Transp. Ins. Co.: Workers’ Compensation and Asbestos, Jan. 20, 2015, Boston Workers’ Compensation Attorney Blog