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Court of Appeals Rules Independent Contractor’s Death Already Properly Compensated

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The Indiana Court of Appeals determined that the estate of an independent contractor who died after falling off a ladder has been properly compensated through the state Workers’ Compensation Act. Therefore, the estate cannot claim at a later date that his injuries occurred outside the scope of employment.

The Indiana Court of Appeals has determined that the estate of an independent contractor who fell off a ladder and died was properly compensated through the state workers’ compensation act, and the man’s estate cannot later claim that his injuries occurred outside the scope of employment.

In The Estate of Donald Eugene Smith v. Joshua Stutzman d/b/a Keystone Builders, No. 43A01-1103-PL-136, an appellate panel affirmed the judgment of Kosciusko Superior Judge Duane Huffer in dismissing the estate’s lawsuit against Keystone Builders.

Eugene Smith, who worked for Keystone Builders, broke his neck and died when he fell 20 feet from a ladder in March 2010. Smith’s widow and estate agreed that Smith’s workers’ compensation claim would be settled for a lump-sum settlement of $100,000. In October 2010, however, the estate filed a complaint against Joshua Stutzman, alleging that Smith’s death was the result of Stutzman’s negligence in maintaining a safe workplace. Since Smith was an independent contractor and not an official employee, the estate argued that the claim was valid.

The trial court entered a default judgment against Stutzman, but ultimately dismissed the case in Stutzman’s favor because the Worker’s Compensation Board has exclusive jurisdiction.

Applying its own caselaw about workers’ compensation coverage, the appellate panel also relied on Sims v. U.S. Fidelity & Guar. Co., 782 N.E.2d 345, 349-350 (Ind. 2003), in which the act’s exclusivity provision bars a court from hearing any common law action brought by an employee for the same injury.

On the issue of whether Smith was an employee, the parties agreed to resolve those differences via a settlement agreement.

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