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McGregor v. Grimes

October 13, 2005

MICHAEL MCGREGOR, APPELLANT,
v.
JOHN GRIMES, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA-531-01). (Hon. Mary A. Gooden Terrell, Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steadman, Senior Judge

Argued November 19, 2004

Before FARRELL and REID, Associate Judges, and STEADMAN, Senior Judge.

Appellant Michael McGregor was injured in a workplace accident involving a motor vehicle that was allegedly caused by the negligence of his fellow employee, appellee John Grimes, the driver of the motor vehicle. Their mutual employer, Solitaire Masonry, was a Maryland corporation,*fn1 but the accident itself occurred in the District of Columbia. McGregor received compensation under the Maryland Workers' Compensation Act ("Maryland WCA"). He then brought suit in the District of Columbia against Grimes. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Grimes. We affirm.

Under the District of Columbia Workers Compensation Act ("DCWCA"), the exclusivity provision generally bars a law suit by an injured employee against a fellow employee (as well as the employer). D.C. Code § 32-1504(b) (2001) ("Exclusiveness of liability and remedy").*fn2 The issue in this appeal is whether that same bar applies in the circumstances here, where the injured employee received compensation under the Maryland WCA, which permits suits against fellow employees. See Hastings v. Mechalske, 650 A.2d 274, 279 (Md. 1994).

Cruz v. Paige, 683 A.2d 1121 (D.C. 1996), involved facts very similar to those in the instant appeal. There, an employee injured in a workplace accident in the District received payments under the Maryland WCA and then brought suit in the District against her fellow employee, the driver of the motor vehicle that caused her injury. We held that she was "entitled" to compensation under the DCWCA at the time of the injury and that the exclusivity provision could not be abrogated simply because the injured employee "manages to obtain workers' compensation benefits anywhere other than 'under this chapter.'" 683 A.2d at 1123. The case before us differs from Cruz, however, in that the employer in Cruz was located in the District and carried insurance under the DCWCA. In our case, the employer, a Maryland corporation, had Maryland WCA insurance coverage but did not carry insurance under the DCWCA

When a workplace injury occurs in the District, the DCWCA by its sweeping terms of coverage almost always applies in its entirety. § 1503(a) ("Coverage"). A narrow exception excuses a requirement of District insurance coverage where both the employer and the employee have limited contacts with the District and the employer has furnished insurance under the WCA of another jurisdiction. § 1503 (a-3).*fn3 McGregor asserts that it is unclear whether the case falls within that exception*fn4 and that summary judgment was thus improperly granted. Such a factual dispute would be material, however, only if it is determinative of the question whether McGregor's fellow employee, appellee Grimes, is subject to suit in the District.

Therefore our mode of analysis proceeds as follows. In part A, we assume the exception does not apply. We examine the provisions of the exclusivity provision, § 1504(b), to determine whether in the particular circumstances here, that provision bars this lawsuit against a fellow employee and conclude that it does. Then, in part B, we assume that the exception contained in § 1503(a-3) does apply. We examine the precise wording of the exception and its interrelation with his case and conclude that even if the exception applies, this law suit against a fellow employee is barred. Thus, under either version of the facts, McGregor's suit is barred and summary judgment was properly granted.

A.

The District's exclusive liability provision is set forth in § 1504(b), which provides as follows (emphasis added):

The compensation to which an employee is entitled under this chapter shall constitute the employee's exclusive remedy against the employer, or any collective-bargaining agent of the employer's employees and any employee, officer, director, or agent of such employer, insurer, or collective-bargaining agent (while acting within the scope of his employment) for any illness, injury, or death arising out of and in the course of his employment; provided, that if an employer fails to secure payment of compensation as required by this chapter, an injured employee, or his legal representative in case death results from the injury, may elect to claim compensation under this chapter, or to maintain an action at law for damages on account of such injury or death. In such action the defendant may not plead as a defense that injury was caused by the negligence of a fellow servant, nor that the employee assumed the risk of his employment, nor that the injury was due to the contributory negligence of the employee.

In barring suits against fellow employees, the District is in accord with the law of the great majority of jurisdictions. See 6 LARSON'S WORKERS' COMPENSATION LAW § 111.03[1] (2005). Maryland is one of a handful of jurisdictions that permit such suits against negligent fellow employees. 6 LARSON, supra, at § 111.02[1].

The question then becomes whether McGregor was "entitled" to compensation under the DCWCA. That coverage is spelled out in the preceding "coverage" ...


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