Harris v. Haynes: On Worker’s Compensation in Car Accident Cases

Harris v. Haynes, an appeal heard before the Supreme Court of Tennessee, involved a claimant (“Claimant”) who was working as a police officer for the local sheriff’s office. Claimant was assisting with a traffic control operation when a woman driving a pickup truck (“Defendant”) ran into him.

480202_broken_car.jpgClaimant applied for and was awarded workers’ compensation benefits to compensate him for lost wages and medical bills. Claimant also filed a civil lawsuit against Defendant under a theory of negligence. The trial court entered a default judgment against Defendant and awarded Claimant and his wife $1,250,000 million in damages.

Claimant also filed a claim against the state risk management (“SRM”) department under the uninsured motorist (UIM) plan. Claimant and SRM filed cross summary judgment motions. While parties acknowledged that claimants who receive workers’ compensation benefits are not also eligible to collect on an uninsured motorist policy, Claimant argued that a portion of the state code conflicted with that prohibition under this particular set of circumstances.

Our Charlotte, North Carolina injury attorneys who represent people injured on the job understand that there are often issues that arise when there are more parties involved in a workers’ compensation action than simply the employee and his or her employer.

The trial court granted SRM’s motion for summary judgment on grounds that the SRM is a state insurance pool and Employer had specifically rejected UIM coverage when signing the policy contract.

UIM coverage is insurance that a driver or vehicle owner purchases to cover the costs of injuries when the at-fault driver is either uninsured or does not have enough insurance coverage to fully compensate a victim for his or her injuries. Many people do not have coverage anywhere close to a million dollars, so UIM coverage may be essential to ensure a fair and appropriate financial recovery.

On appeal, the court looked at the state statute that required UIM coverage to be offered to every motorist at the same amounts of their general liability coverage for accidents to others unless UIM is specifically waived in writing.

The issue turned on whether the SRM, which is a state insurance pool, is an insurance company under the definition of the statute. Many municipal governments will form a risk management pool to cover state employees who are injured in motor vehicle accidents. Having a risk management pool will typically excuse the municipality from having to purchase insurance from a private company.

The statute at issue made it clear that an insurance pool like SRM was not an insurance policy in the traditional sense. There was no required payment of premiums, and rules that apply to insurance carriers do not apply the state pool.

Since the state insurance pool was exempt from the legal requirements of private insurance companies operating in the state, it was therefore exempt from the requirement to offer UIM coverage.

While it may seem like Claimant recovered a significant amount of money to compensate him for his injuries, medical expenses can be extremely expensive. In addition to the medical bills already incurred, the cost of future expenses due to the need for future treatments can be excessive.

If you have been injured at work in Charlotte, North Carolina, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Harris v. Haynes, Aug. 26, 2014, Supreme Court of Te ssee

More Blog Entries
Are You Covered by North Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation System?, May 14, 2010, Charlotte Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Blog

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