By: Adina Johnson
Wuestling & James, P.C.
St. Louis, MO
In its recent McCracken decision, the Missouri Supreme Court significantly changed the defense of work-related injury claims. In Missouri, the Workers Compensation Act governs claims for work-related injuries. Pursuant to the Act, when an employee is injured on the job, he must bring his claim, not to civil court, but rather to the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission except under very limited circumstances.
In the event an employee brought a civil action for a work-related injury, the employer could relatively quickly file a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Such a motion required an immediate determination by the court as to whether the case would proceed as a civil action. This in turn usually allowed employers, and their insurers, to avoid or at least cut short unnecessary and costly discovery.
In McCracken v. Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P., 2009 WL 3444894 (Mo. banc 2009), the Supreme Court overruled long-established precedent allowing employers to challenge subject matter jurisdiction through a motion to dismiss. As a result of McCracken, the employer must now timely raise the applicability of the Workers Compensation Act as an affirmative defense. Failure to timely raise the Acts applicability as an affirmative defense will constitute a waiver of that defense. Practically speaking, as a result of the McCracken decision, the employer must now seek dismissal of the case through a summary judgment motion. This usually cannot be accomplished until after discovery has been substantially completed. This is because Missouri courts typically allow plaintiffs additional time to conduct discovery before requiring a response to a summary judgment motion.
While the applicability of the Workers Compensation Act remains a strong, and frequently successful, defense to a work-related injury claim, the practical effect of McCracken will likely be increased defense costs for the employer and its insurer.