Employer allowed to flip-flop and claim exclusive remedy after denying employee status
Kevin James was recruited to help remove wooden pallets on the property of the Facility Matrix Croup in Oakland County. The employer agreed to pay him $100.00 "under the table." He was severely injured when the fork lift he had been operating tipped over as an FMG employee negligently attempted to extract it from broken asphalt. When James applied for workers compensation coverage, FMG denied that he was an employee and denied him benefits.
James then filed a civil damages lawsuit against FMG and the at-fault employee; FMG answered by arguing that James could not sue because his exclusive remedy was through workers compensation as an employee. James contended that the employer could not reverse its prior claim of non-employment and rely on James' alleged employee status to summarily dispose of James' lawsuit. The trial court disagreed and dismissed the case. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The judges ruled that James was an "employee" under Michigan's workers comp act and that the employer was not "estopped" to claim the exclusive remedy provision of the workers compensation scheme.