Alabama’s Exclusivity Doctrine Fails to Protect Employer from Wrongful Death Claim Following Employee’s Fatal Heart Attack at Work
The Alabama Supreme Court recently denied a petition filed by Walmart for a Writ of Mandamus. The petition was filed as the result of the trial court denying Walmart’s motion for judgment on the pleadings. It was the position of Walmart that its employee’s wrongful death claim was barred by the exclusive remedy provision of the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act.
The only opinion was that of Justice Mitchell who dissented. Justice Mitchell explained that any injury that an employee suffers because of employer provided treatment following a work accident is an injury arising out of the employment. He also noted that the Alabama Supreme Court had previously held that the existence of an employer/employee relationship between a decedent and a defendant at the time of death triggered the exclusivity doctrine and made workers’ compensation death benefits the sole remedy for the decedent’s dependents.
My Two Cents: The exclusivity doctrine only shields the employer if the claimed injury or death is compensable. Heart attack claims are not always compensable workers’ compensation claims. When making a decision on whether to accept or deny a workers’ compensation death claim, the potential for tort liability should always be considered. In the above case, the decedent’s spouse never made a claim for workers’ compensation death benefits. Had the employer proactively offered the benefits and had they been accepted by the spouse, there may have been a different outcome.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The article was written by Joshua G. Holden, Esq. a Member of Fish, Nelson & Holden, LLC, a law firm dedicated to representing employers, self‑insured employers and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation and related liability matters. Mr. Holden is AV rated by Martindale‑Hubbell, which is the highest rating an attorney can receive. Holden 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.