Jackson v. Eagle (CA1 1/16/18)

Defendants tried to use a foreign worker’s compensation claim to block an Arizona personal-injury case. The opinion is interesting mostly because the analysis stops just about the time it should start.

Plaintiff’s employer, a Nebraska company, sent him to truck-driving school in Arizona. He was injured in an accident caused by an instructor. He obtained worker’s compensation in Nebraska and then sued the school and instructor here. Defendants argued that because he was entitled to Arizona worker’s comp benefits our statute (23-1023.B) applies: over one year had passed and Plaintiff had no re-assignment so Defendants sought summary judgment. The trial court granted it.

The Court of Appeals reverses.  Plaintiff cited cases to the effect that the statute doesn’t apply when workers comp benefits aren’t involved, even if the plaintiff could have sought them. The court agrees with Defendant that these don’t apply since Plaintiff did obtain comp benefits and his employer, under Nebraska law, has a subrogation interest in his lawsuit (and he included it as a party in his lawsuit, as required by Nebraska law to get it reimbursed). But the court decides that the statute doesn’t apply anyway, because it has not been “interpreted . . . as a statute of limitations” and is “not designed” to trap plaintiffs or shield tortfeasors.

That is the limit of the court’s statutory interpretation. It does at least quote the statute, though it never really explains why the language of that statute, or any other, means that it doesn’t apply. Maybe its conclusion is correct. But its analysis consists of a wave of the hand and a nod to good intentions.

And what of the employer’s subrogation interest? That is saved, too, since the law of the state where compensation is paid governs subrogation rights.

(Opinion: Jackson v. Eagle FMC LLC)