The Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed a lower court's judgment confirming a determination of the state workers' compensation commission that a medical helicopter pilot is immune from liability in an action brought by the pilot's coworkers for injuries arising from an accident allegedly caused by the pilot's negligence.
On Feb. 21, 2005, a medical helicopter accident occurred in Benton County, Ark., involving a helicopter owned and operated by Air Evac EMS Inc. Three Air Evac employees, flight nurse Dee Ann Miller, EMT Clayton Bratt, and commercial pilot Dennis Enders, were on board the helicopter at the time of the crash, which resulted in injuries to Miller and Bratt.
Miller and Bratt sued Enders alleging negligent operation of the helicopter. A trial court dismissed the action after concluding Enders was immune from suit under an applicable state statute extending an employer's tort liability to a co-employee.
The trial court transferred the case to the state workers' compensation commission and following administrative proceedings, an administrative law judge (ALJ) held that Enders was performing his employer's duty to provide a safe workplace for Miller and Bratt and was therefore entitled to immunity. The decision was affirmed on appeal, and Miller and Bratt sought judicial review.
The supreme court noted that it had consistently interpreted the statute at issue to afford immunity to co-employees that were acting as an arm of the employer. Such immunity did not limit recovery, but instead cloaked certain co-employees in limited fact scenarios with immunity as an employer when they were fulfilling their employer's duties to provide a safe workplace.
The supreme court concluded that this interpretation was consistent with the general purpose behind the state workers' compensation statute, which was to change the common law by shifting the burden of all work-related injuries from individual employers and employees to the consuming public with the concept of fault being virtually immaterial. Accordingly, the lower court's opinion was affirmed.
Source: Health Law Week, 02/22/2013
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