By: Jason J. Hoy, Esq.
Whitten Law Office
For those engaged in the defense of worker’s compensation claims, sometimes one comes across the situation where an injured worker wants to pursue benefits for the same injury in more than one state. This usually involves the situation where an injury occurs in one state, but the employer is located, or the injured worker resides, in a different state. For instance, a truck driver working for Company A is injured while dropping a load of goods off in a state that is outside of Company A’s location and/or the driver’s state of residence. Not surprisingly, the injured worker often wants to maximize his /her recovery and sometimes benefits in one state are more generous than those available under another state’s worker’s compensation system. However, jurisdictions handle this situation differently.
For example, the prevailing view has become that “unless the statute or decisions of the state of the first award expressly disallow a later award in another state, which has an adequate interest in the subject matter, such an award may be made if credit is given for payments on the first award.” Brenon v. First Advantage Corp., 973 N.E.2d 1116, 1121 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012). This is the view that sprang forth from the US Supreme Court’s analysis in Indus. Comm’n of Wis. v. McCartin, 330 U.S. 622 (1947). In McCartin, the employer and the employee executed a settlement agreement that was approved by Illinois’ worker’s compensation commission. That agreement expressly reserved the employee’s right to pursue any claims that he might have under Wisconsin’s worker’s compensation system. The Court found that the reservation clause was consistent with the worker’s compensation act of Illinois and did not foreclose an additional award under another state’s laws. Id. at 627-30. Therefore, the worker was free to pursue a worker’s compensation claim in Wisconsin as long as any award/settlement amount from Illinois was credited against the award in Wisconsin. Id. This approach prevents a double recovery for the same damages while preserving the workers’ option to pursue claims in multiple states.
Indiana and Illinois follow the prevailing view by case law. However, some states have gone further and legislatively codify this approach. For example, in Michigan:
If an employee or the employee's dependents receive worker's compensation benefits from an employer, a carrier, a principal, or a subcontractor under the law of another state for the same personal injury for which benefits are payable under this act, the amount recovered under the law of the other state, whether paid or to be paid in future installments, shall be credited against the benefits payable under this act.
See M.C.L.A. 418.846. Kentucky has a similar approach:
The payment or award of benefits under the workers' compensation law of another state, territory, province, or foreign nation to an employee or his or her dependents otherwise entitled on account of such injury or death to the benefits of this chapter shall not be a bar to a claim for benefits under this chapter, if a claim under this chapter is filed within two (2) years after that injury or death. If compensation is paid or awarded under this chapter:
(a) The medical and related benefits furnished or paid for by the employer under another jurisdiction's workers' compensation law on account of such injury or death shall be credited against the medical and related benefits to which the employee would have been entitled under this chapter had claim been made solely under this chapter;
(b) The total amount of all income benefits paid or awarded the employee under another jurisdiction's workers' compensation law shall be credited against the total amount of income benefits which would have been due the employee under this chapter, had claim been made solely under this chapter; and
(c) The total amount of death benefits paid or awarded under another jurisdiction's workers' compensation law shall be credited against the total amount of death benefits due under this chapter.
See KRS § 342.670 (2)
However, some jurisdictions take a different approach. In Tennessee, the worker’s compensation system follows what is referred to as the “elections of remedies doctrine.” This doctrine comes into play when an employee suffers a compensable injury in another state and may be barred from recovering benefits for the same injury in Tennessee. This doctrine is designed to “prevent forum shopping, vexatious litigation, and double recovery for the same injury.” Eadie v. Complete Cp., Inc., 142 S.W.3d 288, 291 (Tenn.2004) (citing Bradshaw v. Old Republic Ins. Co., 922 S.W.2d 503, 506 (Tenn. 1996)). It is not necessary that the employee actually receive benefits in another state for the doctrine to apply. The employee is precluded from receiving benefits in Tennessee as long as the worker “(a) affirmatively acted to obtain benefits in another state; or (b) knowingly and voluntarily accepted benefits under the law of another state.” Id. Accordingly, if an employee simply filed a claim, or otherwise initiated proceedings in another state, then that could be sufficient activity to constitute affirmative conduct under the election of remedies doctrine and bar the employee from recovering anything for the same injury in Tennessee’s worker’s compensation system.
In conclusion, just because a worker has pursued a claim in a different state does not necessarily mean that claim is precluded from being pursued in your state. Check your state statutes and case law to determine how your jurisdiction handles identical claims that are filed in multiple states. Remember that the prevailing view is that the pursuit of an identical claim in multiple states is permitted, but any amount recovered from another state’s claim must be credited against any subsequent recovery so as to eliminate the opportunity for double recovery.
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