Appellate Practice Group Chair Melinda Kollross Secures Win in Idaho Supreme Court

April 22, 2020 / News

CM Appellate Practice Group chair Melinda S. Kollross was retained by one of our premier insurance clients to defend plaintiff’s appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court seeking a narrow construction of the Idaho Worker’s Compensation Law as affording immunity in linear fashion covering only the direct employer and statutory employer of the injured worker. Richardson v. Z&H Construction, Docket No. 46587 (Idaho Mar. 20, 2020).

Plaintiff Michael Richardson was injured on a construction site when he fell through a crawl space cover. After receiving a worker’s compensation award from his direct employer, Richardson sued three other subcontractors on the job site for negligence (collectively, the “Respondent LLCs”). The district court granted the Respondent LLCs’ motion for summary judgment, determining that the Respondent LLCs were Richardson’s statutory coemployees under the Idaho Worker’s Compensation Law and immune from suit pursuant to the exclusive remedy rule. Richardson appealed the district court’s judgment.

The other subcontractors agreed to let Melinda take the lead in drafting a joint respondents’ brief and to present oral argument on their behalf before the Idaho Supreme Court in November. Melinda argued that the Worker’s Compensation Law applied in an umbrella-like fashion, covering all subcontractors and subcontractors’ employees working for the same general contractor at the same site based upon the broad extension of immunity found in section 72-209(3) of the Code to a statutory employer’s “surety, agents, officers, servants and employees.” See I.C. § 72- 209(3).
Melinda refuted plaintiff’s argument that an “employee” under the Worker’s Compensation Law had to be a natural person and not a corporate entity such as the Respondent LLCs based on the statutory definition of “person” as including corporate entities.

The Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the district court’s judgment. The Supreme Court held that while the Respondent LLCs were not Richardson’s statutory employer, they qualify as “employees” pursuant to Idaho Code section 72-209(3). Thus, the Supreme Court held that the Respondent LLCs are statutorily immune from suit pursuant to the Worker’s Compensation Law.

The entire defense team is thrilled with this precedent-setting decision.

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