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CLANAGAN v. WASHINGTON METRO. AREA TRANSIT AUTH.

September 2, 1982

JOHN WARREN CLANAGAN, Plaintiff,
v.
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHEY

 UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE, CHARLES R. RICHEY.

 Before the Court is defendant's motion for summary judgment, plaintiff's opposition thereto, and the entire record herein, the Court having heard oral argument by both sides on this matter. Defendant here contends that it is immune from suit because it was obligated to purchase workers' compensation coverage for plaintiff and thus is entitled to the protection of § 905(a) of the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Action, 33 U.S.C. § 905(a)(1976). *fn1" Plaintiff argues that defendant should not be held immune because it was not obligated to purchase compensation coverage for plaintiff and because any arrangement by which defendant may have obtained immunity from this action is null and void as contrary to law. Upon careful consideration of these arguments, the Court holds that this action is barred by § 905(a) and, accordingly, should be dismissed.

 FINDINGS OF FACT

 Plaintiff in this action seeks damages for injuries sustained while working as a hard rock miner on the Metro subway project. At the time of his injuries, plaintiff worked for subcontractors performing construction services for defendant, the general contractor for the entire subway project. The subcontractors for whom he worked did not obtain workers' compensation insurance applicable to him.

 Instead, defendant obtained insurance covering plaintiff. More precisely, the defendant required that all claims by workers on the Metro project be administered through its adjuster, the National Loss Control Service Corporation, and all claims be paid by its carrier, Lumberman's Mutual Casualty Insurance Co. Plaintiff applied for and received workers' compensation benefits for his injuries from defendant's carrier.

 CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

 I. DEFENDANT IS IMMUNE BECAUSE IT WAS OBLIGATED TO INSURE PLAINTIFF UNDER § 904(a)

 On both sides, the parties to this action have argued that the entity that was obligated to purchase the workers' compensation coverage for plaintiff is entitled to the immunity under § 905(a). The parties disagree, however, as to who had that obligation -- defendant, the general contractor for the Metro project, or the subcontractor, for whom plaintiff directly worked. On this question, the arguments by both sides rest on language from the same statutory provision, 33 U.S.C. § 904(a), which states:

 
Every employer shall be liable for and shall secure the payment to his employees of the compensation payable under sections 907, 908, and 909 of this title. In the case of an employer who is a subcontractor, the contractor shall be liable for and shall secure the payment of such compensation to employees of the subcontractor unless the subcontractor has secured such payment.

 Plaintiff argues from the first sentence of this provision that the subcontractor, and the subcontractor alone, had the obligation to purchase workers' compensation insurance for its employees. Plaintiff further relies on this sentence to suggest that the arrangement whereby the defendant took on the subcontractor's responsibility of purchasing compensation insurance is contrary to law. Only plaintiff's direct employer, he says, should have obtained the insurance.

 Defendant argues from the second sentence of § 904(a) that it was liable for purchasing workers' compensation for the employees of its subcontractor unless the subcontractor purchased the insurance itself. This sentence, defendant contends, puts the primary obligation on the general contractor, not the subcontractor, to purchase insurance. Defendant further argues that it would have been guilty of a misdemeanor under 33 U.S.C. § 938(a) had it failed to purchase compensation insurance for plaintiff as it did.

 The Court finds that the defendant has proffered the better interpretation. On its face, § 904(a) plainly contemplates that either the subcontractor or the general contractor obtain workers' compensation insurance. This language has been part of the Act since it was passed in 1927. See S. 3170, 69th Cong., 2d Sess. § 4, reprinted at 68 Cong. Rec. 5404 (1972). It assures compensation coverage for workers performing for subcontractors: either the subcontractor picks up insurance for these workers or the general contractor must do so. The important thing is that the worker be insured.

 Here, plaintiff was insured. By arrangement, the contractor and the subcontractor saw to it that there was compensation insurance that covered the plaintiff. Indeed, plaintiff has already received his compensation insurance award! Thus, the goal of the workers' compensation law has already been satisfied. As Congressman Firorella La Guardia stated at the time of the passage of the Act, workers' compensation seeks to "transfer from society and from the courts the ...


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