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Winter 2003-09 Company immune from claim by subcontractors employee

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Number 50
Winter 2003

Company immune from claim by subcontractor's employee

In Correa Pagan v. Gulf Chemical Corporation, 224 F.Supp.2d 393 (2002), the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico ruled that a company is immune from work accident claims of a subcontractor's employee, even though the defendant is not the claimant's employer.

Not an employee

Plaintiff, an employee of subcontractor Raytheon-Catalytic, Inc., was hurt when hit by a dumpster, while working at Gulf Chemical Corporation. Although covered by his employer's State Insurance Fund policy, he sued Gulf under the theory that there was no employer-employee relationship between him and the defendant.

Gulf moved for summary judgment in its favor, asserting immunity under the doctrine of "statutory employer." Gulf pointed out that its contract with Raytheon provided for mandatory workmen compensation coverage.

The court

The District Court first stated that under the Puerto Rico Workmen Compensation Act, when an employee suffers a work-related injury, the employer is immune from suit regardless of the employer's degree of negligence. This protection extends to "certain persons who were not technically employers but were thought to deserve immunity from tort liability because of their close involvement in the employer-employee relationship"-the so-called "statutory employer."

Crucial factor

The crucial factor in determining the presence of the requisite legal nexus is "the nature and terms of the contractual relationship between the contractor and subcontractor," the court added. A contractor benefits from the immunity if it contractually bound the subcontractor to take out an insurance policy under the PRWCA.

The claim against Gulf was summarily dismissed.


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