I Was Injured In Alabama. Can My Employer Force Me To Seek Work Comp Benefits In Another State?
Where can I file my workers’ compensation claim? For many people, the answer is easy. Many people work entirely within a single state.
For others, the question brings choices. Maybe you work primarily in one state. But, you were injured while performing job tasks in another state. Years ago, these issues mainly applied to truckers and traveling salesmen. But, now, it’s not unusual for people to work across several different states.
What happens if you work primarily in one state but are injured on-the-job in another? What happens if your office is in one state but you are hurt while present in another? What are the rules for work-related injuries? Where can you file a claim?
Alabama’s work comp statute addresses many issues for workers who work and travel across state lines. Our law is broad and allows many workers to pursue claims in Alabama. Below, I provide a little advice for workers in this situation.
Recently, one employer tried to force a worker injured IN Alabama to pursue her work comp claim in Tennessee. That brings us to the question of the day — If your work-related accident happened in Alabama, can your employer force you to file the claim somewhere else?
If You Suffered A Work-Related Accident And Injury In Alabama, You Have A Right To Seek Compensation Here
The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals addressed this issue in the recent case of Sellers v. Venture Express. What happened? The employee Gina Sellers lived in Alabama and worked as a truck driver. While driving her eighteen wheeler in Alabama, she suffered an accident. Sellers later filed a work comp lawsuit in Cullman County. The employer Venture Express asked the Alabama trial court to dismiss Sellers’ work comp claim based on a signed employment agreement which stated her employment was “principally located in Tennessee.” Based on the employment agreement, Venture Express argued Tennessee was the only proper forum for the claim.
First, can Alabama law apply if you were injured OUTSIDE our State? Yes, in many situations it can. Our work comp laws give Alabama courts jurisdiction over injuries that occur outside Alabama in situations where the employment is “principally localized” here or the parties had an employment contract here. So, in many situations workers can be covered by Alabama law when injured elsewhere. Last year, I had just such a case. My client lived in Alabama. She traveled to Texas almost weekly for work. She suffered an accident and injury while in Texas for her job. But, she also maintained a home office here. We were able to prove that her employment was principally localized in Alabama based on her office here. We fought the insurance carrier to keep her case in Alabama and worked to get her the maximum compensation allowed by Alabama law.
Second, does Alabama law apply if you were injured HERE despite working primarily (or under a contract) with an out-of-state company? This is the scenario that occurred in the Sellers v. Venture Express case. The answer is simple — If the accident happened in Alabama, our courts have jurisdiction. That’s true regardless of your contract of hire. If hurt in Alabama, you can file your claim here. What’s more, your employer cannot simply make you sign away your rights under Alabama work comp law. In the Sellers v. Venture Express case, our court held the injured employee could pursue her claims in Alabama where the accident occurred. She could pursue those claims, here, even though her employer had her sign paperwork indicating otherwise.
This raises a broader issue. In some work comp situations, the employee may have a choice as to where he or she can file a claim. Alabama law provides for jurisdiction if the injury occurred here and in some situations where the injury occurred elsewhere. Many states now have laws similar to ours. It’s not unusual in some professions (like truckers) to have choices.
You May Have Options As To Where You File Your Workers Compensation Claim
If you work in different states, you may have options as to where to file a work comp claim. What good is an option without an informed choice? That’s a big problem.
Too often, an injured employee will quickly consult a local lawyer and never even consider their options. I think many lawyers fail to consider the options. If you have options, you need to consider which state is better for you!
I mentioned my case involving Alabama or Texas earlier in this post for a reason. We looked at the pros and cons of filing in either state. My client’s employer fought (and lost) the issue by trying to insist on Texas law. The employer clearly wanted Texas law to apply because in our unique case, it provided fewer benefits. Medical treatment was also an issue to my client. She had a much better doctor in Alabama than the ones offered by the company in Texas. We looked at all the issues and discussed the options. She chose Alabama after being fully informed.
In too many cases, people are not informed. They call a lawyer who does not look at the law or provide advice. If you are injured in a situation where your work or accident involved different states, get some good advice. Make an informed choice that is best for you.
From its office in Huntsville, the Blackwell Law Firm helps injured clients across Alabama. Many of these cases involve serious work-related or highway-related accidents and injuries. If you have questions about a personal injury issue, let us know. Our advice sessions are always free and confidential. We are happy to answer your questions.