Worker's Compensation Exclusivity

The Estate of Smith v. Stutzman (Ind. Ct. App. March 23, 2012)
Originally published March 26, 2012

In this case, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court properly set aside a default judgment entered against an employer on a claim brought by an employee who claimed he was injured due to the employer’s negligence. The trial court had set aside the default judgment on the grounds that the judgment was void because the employee was acting within the scope of his employment and therefore his exclusive remedy was under Indiana's Worker’s Compensation Act.

The employee's Estate had previously entered into a settlement agreement with the employer before the worker’s compensation board and accepted a lump sum payment of $100,000. After receiving this payment, the Estate then filed a claim for damages in Kosciusko Superior Court. The Estate argued that although it had settled the worker’s compensation claim, it should remain free to argue whether the decedent was acting in the scope of employment at the time of the injury. The Court of Appeals disagreed with the Estate and held it was barred from litigating whether the employee was acting within the scope of employment.

This case makes clear that once an employee elects to receive compensation under the Workers Compensation Act, that employee is barred from later claiming his or her claim did not fall under the Act.

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