Summary Judgment Granted - Workers' Compensation Immunity - Palm Beach County 

Miami Associate, Olivia Diaz de Villegas, and Miami Partner, Taylor Scheiner prevailed on a Motion for Summary Final Judgment based on Workers' Compensation Immunity in Palm Beach County roofing accident case. CSK represented a roofing subcontractor who sub-subcontracted its work to another roofing contractor. The job was complete, but the owner complained of persistent leaks and made multiple warranty claims. During one such claim, a worker slipped on the roof while trying to access the ladder, jumped to the ground, and suffered comminuted fractures to both ankles.  At 45 years old, Plaintiff had two surgeries and permanent injuries to both ankles and was no longer able to work on site in the industry.

Plaintiff sued our roofing subcontractor in general negligence, claiming he was our client’s independent contractor and not an employee of the sub-subcontractor even though he was paid in cash by the sub-subcontractor for all prior work on this and other jobs, the other roofing company was owned and managed by his relatives, and our client had never setup a vendor or employment file for Plaintiff, who was not eligible to work in the country.  Plaintiff claimed our roofer did not supply the OSHA-required PPE and allowed him to work on the roof without a fall arrest system.  Plaintiff demanded $2,500,000 in damages.

In response to our immunity defense, plaintiff made claims against the workers compensation insurance carriers and both roofers. Both employers and carriers denied the claims. Plaintiff then filed a petition for benefits against our roofer and insurer, only.

We moved for summary final judgment, arguing our client was immune from tort liability because both roofing contractors had procured and maintained workers’ compensation insurance.  Plaintiff could not be our “independent contractor” because there was no such status under the statute, and our client’s WC insurance “secured the payment of workers compensation benefits for Plaintiff whether he was our client’s “independent contractor” or the other roofer’s employee. 

To circumvent immunity, Plaintiff argued our client was estopped from asserting the defense because it denied was its independent contractor or employee and, therefore, it was taking an inconsistent position in the tort claim by asserting immunity, which presupposed an employer/employee relationship.

However, Plaintiff had not pled estoppel in its Complaint or in a reply to avoid the immunity defense.  The court granted our motion and found that by producing evidence of the workers compensation insurance policy, our client shifted the burden to Plaintiff to first plead estoppel and then bring summary judgment evidence forward to an inconsistent position.   

The Court found that estoppel was not framed by the pleadings and our client had not taken inconsistent positions by merely denying the injured worker’s relationship to our client. This boxed Plaintiff in on the pleading defect and highlighted Plaintiff’s lack of diligence in seeking to amend its pleadings, which took the any equity out of Plaintiff's "estoppel" argument that it had somehow been treated unfairly by our client. The Court granted our Motion for Final Summary Final Judgment on the Affirmative Defense of Workers’ Compensation Immunity and entered final judgment in the same order, ending the case. 

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