West Virginia Worker Sues Lowe's After Sustaining a Workplace Back Injury

January 16, 2013

forklift.jpegA West Virginia man is suing a Lowe's Home Centers store after suffering a workplace injury in the receiving department. Michael Hambrick and his wife seek compensatory damages after Hambrick injured his back while moving boxes.

Hambrick had been working in the plumbing department, but was directed to leave and work in the receiving department. While there, the Receiving Manager, Ernie Booth, directed Hambrick and his coworkers to remove boxes that were loose from a trailer bed while within the range of a forklift. As Booth moved the forklift over a ramp, the movement caused a large box, weighing 300 pounds, to jar loose and fall onto Hambrick's back.

As a result of Booth's actions, Hambrick claims to suffer from "extreme physical pain and suffering," as well as permanent physical disability. He also claims to suffer from extreme mental anguish, and faces both lost wages and reduced future earning capacity, in addition to medical expenses. Finally, he claims that he has suffered a loss of capacity to enjoy life. Hambrick argues that Booth failed to comply with state and federal safety regulations, as well as accepted industry practice, in forcing Hambrick and his coworkers to work in unsafe and illegal conditions. Hambrick's wife argues that she has been deprived of the "society, companionship, and consortium" of her husband.

It is interesting that Hambrick is pursuing a lawsuit against his employer, especially if Lowe's has workers compensation insurance. Normally when an employer has workers compensation insurance, an injured employee is required by law to accept payments in lieu of the right to sue. However, it may be that Hambrick is not an employee, but an independent contractor. Employers are generally not required to cover independent contractors. In turn, an independent contractor can hire a West Virginia personal injury attorney and sue the employer for negligence, as Hambrick appears to have done in this case.

Another exception to the workers compensation law above is, of course, if the employer does not have any workers compensation insurance. That is generally against the law, but there are two legal exceptions: if the employer self insures, or if the issue is extraterritorial coverage. West Virginia permits an employer to self insure their employees' injury claims, but requires that they register under "Guaranteed Cost and Self-Insurance Coverage" provisions with the West Virginia Insurance Commission.

With extraterritorial coverage, the employer is not required to cover an employee through a private West Virginia insurance carrier if (1) that worker's employment relationship or contract of hire was consummated in a state other than West Virginia and (2) that worker will be working in West Virginia for 30 days or less out of 365. The extraterritorial worker can receive workers compensation coverage from another state if the employer's coverage extends into West Virginia. In this case, an employer may choose to apply with the Offices of the Insurance Commissioner for an exemption from West Virginia workers' compensation.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are injured on the job, but are not covered by workers compensation insurance, contact a West Virginia attorney today who can stand up for your rights.