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Savannah Hospitality Services, LLC v. Scriven

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fourth Division

May 23, 2019

SCRIVEN et al.

          DOYLE, P. J., COOMER and MARKLE, JJ.

          MARKLE, JUDGE.

         James Scriven was injured in an automobile accident in 2013. He subsequently filed suit against one of his employers, Savannah Hospitality Services, LLC ("SHS"), [1]alleging that SHS was negligent when it denied him access to medical care and insurance coverage, and that the resulting delay in care exacerbated his injuries. SHS moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment on the ground that the Workers' Compensation Act was the exclusive remedy. Without addressing the exclusive remedy argument, the trial court denied SHS's motion to dismiss. We granted interlocutory review, and for the reasons that follow, we reverse.

         "On appeal, we conduct a de novo review of a trial court's ruling on a motion to dismiss." (Citation omitted.) Kerr v. OB/GYN Assoc. of Savannah, 314 Ga.App. 40, 41 (723 S.E.2d 302) (2012).

         So viewed, the record shows that in August 2016, Scriven and his wife filed a complaint against SHS, Southeastern Airport Services, Inc. ("SAS"), Richard Bennett, and Carol Cherry, alleging that he was employed by both SHS and SAS as a maintenance worker and airport shuttle driver.[2] In 2013, he suffered injuries in a car accident when he was struck by another vehicle that Cherry owned and Bennett was driving. At the time of the accident, Scriven was driving a vehicle owned by SAS. In addition to claims against Bennett, Cherry, and SAS that are not relevant to this appeal, Scriven also alleged that SHS was negligent in failing to provide him with access to medical insurance coverage after the accident, and that this failure exacerbated his injuries and led to his suffering multiple strokes.

         SHS answered the complaint, admitting that Scriven worked for SHS and SAS, and moved to dismiss the claims against it because the Workers' Compensation Act was the exclusive remedy. Attached to the motion to dismiss was a copy of a previous lawsuit Scriven had filed in 2015 against Bennett, Cherry, SAS, SHS, and Southeastern Hospitality Services, Inc., in which Scriven alleged that he had been injured while in the course of his employment.[3] Also attached to the motion were responses to interrogatories in the initial suit, in which Scriven and his wife stated that, at the time of the accident, Scriven was headed back to work after picking up parts at the parts store.

         The trial court denied SHS's motion with regard to the negligence claim, but allowed the claim that SHS prevented Scriven from obtaining healthcare benefits to proceed. The trial court did not address SHS's argument that Workers' Compensation was the exclusive remedy, and it refused to consider the documents submitted with the motion. SHS obtained a certificate of immediate review, and we granted the application for interlocutory appeal. This is SHS's appeal.

         In its sole enumeration of error, SHS argues that the trial court erred in denying its motion to dismiss because Workers' Compensation is the exclusive remedy and bars Scriven's civil action against it, including any claim that SHS's conduct exacerbated Scriven's injuries. It contends that Scriven admitted in his prior lawsuit that the auto accident occurred in the scope of his employment, and the trial court was authorized to consider this admission. We agree that Scriven's claims are barred by the Act's exclusivity provision.

         The Georgia Workers' Compensation Act (the "Act") is designed to provide for relief to injured employees, while also protecting employers from excessive recoveries of damages. See DeKalb Collision Center, Inc. v. Foster, 254 Ga.App. 477, 482 (1) (562 S.E.2d 740) (2002). "The Workers' Compensation Act is a humanitarian measure which should be liberally construed to effectuate its purpose." (Citation omitted.) City of Waycross v. Holmes, 272 Ga. 488, 489 (532 S.E.2d 90) (2000); see also OCGA § 34-9-23.

         Importantly, the Act contains an exclusive remedy provision, which reads in relevant part:

The rights and the remedies granted to an employee by this chapter shall exclude . . . all other rights and remedies of such employee [or] his or her personal representative . . . and all other civil liabilities whatsoever at common law or otherwise, on account of such injury, loss of service, or death . . . . No employee shall be deprived of any right to bring an action against any third-party tort-feasor, other than an employee of the same employer. . . .

OCGA § 34-9-11 (a). Thus, "where the Act applies, it provides the employee's exclusive remedy against his employer and precludes recovery on a tort claim by an injured employee against his employer." (Citations and punctuation omitted.) Teasley v. Freeman, 305 Ga.App. 1, 2 (1) (699 S.E.2d 39) (2010); see also Ga. Dept. of Human Resources v. Joseph Campbell Co., 261 Ga. 822, 822-823 (1) (411 S.E.2d 871) (1992) (exclusive remedy provision precludes suit against employer as third-party defendant, "even when the employer's negligence contributes to the employee's injuries.").

It has been held repeatedly that OCGA § 34-9-11 grants the injured employee's employer statutory immunity from suit by the employee to recover damages other than workers' compensation benefits, and it has also been made clear that this statutory immunity from suit includes the statutory employer regardless whether that statutory employer had actually paid the workers' compensation benefits.

(Citations, punctuation, and emphasis omitted.) Saxon v. Starr Indem. & Liability Co., 339 Ga.App. 495, 497 (1) (793 S.E.2d 659) (2016). Whether the exclusivity provision bars an action is a question of law subject to de novo review. Boulware v. ...

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