Alabama Court Holds Employer Provided UM Benefits Subject to Subrogation
On June 21, 2013, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals released its decision in the case of Samuel Roblero v. Cox Pools of the Southeast, Inc. In that case, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s ruling that uninsured motorist settlement proceeds that Roblero received after a work related motor vehicle accident were subject to the employer’s subrogation rights. The facts of the case before the court were that on May 10, 2010, the employee, Samuel Roblero, had been involved in a motor vehicle accident occurring in and arising out of his employment with Cox Pools. The driver of the other vehicle involved in the accident was at fault, but he was uninsured. The vehicle Roblero was driving was owned by Cox Pools, and the employer had a policy of uninsured motorist insurance covering that vehicle with policy limits of $3,000,000. Cox Pools had paid Roblero over $20,000.00 in TTD benefits and had expended more than $47,000.00 for Roblero’s medical treatment. Roblero settled his claim for uninsured motorist benefits with the UM carrier for $30,000.00. Then, Roblero filed a Complaint seeking workers’ compensation benefits from Cox Pools, alleging that he had suffered a permanent disability as a result of the accident. Cox Pools then filed a Motion for Summary Judgment seeking dismissal of Roblero’s workers’ compensation claim on the basis that he was estopped from recovering workers’ compensation benefits because it would result in an impermissible "double recovery" for the same injury. Cox Pools also asserted subrogation rights to the $30,000.00 that Roblero had received in uninsured motorist insurance benefits. The trial Court conducted a hearing on Cox Pools’ Motion for Summary Judgment and ruled that Cox Pools had a right to subrogate against the $30,000.00 Roblero received from the uninsured motorist settlement. Additionally, the trial court dismissed Roblero’s workers’ compensation claim because it found that Cox Pools was not allowed the opportunity to participate in the settlement with the uninsured motorist insurer.
Roblero appealed, but he failed to assert that the trial Court erred in determining that the uninsured motorist insurance settlement was subject to Cox Pools subrogation rights. Instead, he argued that the court "improperly grouped" the credit for compensation benefits with the subrogation allowed against medical expenses, and that the court improperly dismissed his claim for workers’ compensation benefits. In its decision, the Court of Appeals noted that § 25-5-11 of The Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act clearly allows an injured employee to maintain a third party action and an action for workers’ compensation benefits at the same time, and that dismissal of Roblero’s claim was therefore improper. The Court of Appeals reversed the portion of the trial Court’s order dismissing Roblero’s workers’ compensation claim, but upheld the portion of the judgment determining that the uninsured motorist benefits were subject to Cox Pools’ subrogation rights since Roblero failed to argue that issue on appeal.
My Two Cents:
The trial court’s ruling on Cox Pools’ subrogation rights would have most likely been reversed as well if Roblero had argued that issue on appeal. The Court noted the case of Bunkley v. Bunkley Air Conditioning, Inc., 688 So.2d 827 (Ala. Civ. App. 1996) was controlling on the issue, and that case held that uninsured motorist benefits were not subject to an employer’s subrogation rights. The Court of Appeals went to great lengths to point out that Roblero failed to make this argument on appeal, thus waiving that argument.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The article was written by Charley M. Drummond, Esq. of Fish Nelson, LLC. Fish Nelson is a law firm located in Birmingham, Alabama dedicated to representing employers, self-insured employers, and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation cases and related liability matters. Drummond and his firm are members of The National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network (NWCDN). The NWCDN is a national and Canadian network of reputable law firms organized to provide employers and insurers access to the highest quality representation in workers’ compensation and related employer liability fields.
If you have questions about this article or Alabama workers’ compensation issues in general, please feel free to contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or (205) 332-3414.