Firm founder Rod Rehm won a major victory for workplace safety in Nebraska yesterday. The longstanding exclusive remedy rule for work-related injury and death cases was limited.
Lancaster County District Court Judge Steven Burns issued a ruling allowing the parents of Neil Cary, a young man killed in a workplace accident outside of Lincoln, to let a jury determine whether the negligence of their son’s employer caused his death. To a non-lawyer, this decision may not sound like news, but this ruling is big news. Historically, the exclusive remedy for injured workers and their families is to sue for limited damages through the separate workers’ compensation court system. So until this ruling, workers’ heirs couldn’t sue a negligent employer for full damages from a work-related death.
Cary’s parents didn’t receive any workers’ compensation benefits for the loss of their son. Workers’ compensation death benefits only pay money for loss of income to survivors who were dependents of the worker. If a parent is not financially dependent on the child, which is usually the case, a parent is not entitled to receive compensation under Nebraska’s workers’ compensation law. Accordingly, burial expenses and end-of-life medical care were the only benefits paid on Cary’s behalf.
The trial court judge ruled that since Cary’s parents were not entitled to any workers’ compensation, he would allow them to seek damages directly from their son’s employer. The judge ruled that workers’ compensation was not the exclusive remedy for these parents. This ruling will allow parents to recover fair compensation from employers who don’t provide a safe workplace.