An employee was eligible to receive workers’ comp for injuries he received when a chair he was sitting in collapsed. But he decided to take the case a step further, claiming the owner of the company was personally liable because the chair was the owner’s personal property. How did a court rule?
Paul Friend was employed by GBWY Investment Group Inc. in California as a tow truck driver. He sued GBWY’s owner, William Kang, alleging he was injured at work when a metal folding chair he was sitting on collapsed.
Friend claims his injuries were caused by Kang’s negligence. Kang argued workers’ comp was Friend’s exclusive remedy because this was a workplace injury. Kang asked for the claim against him to be dismissed. A trial court granted Kang’s request.
After the trial court’s ruling, Friend took his case to a state appeals court, arguing there was a factual dispute about whether the chair was owned by GBWY or Kang personally.
Separate company or just alias?
In arguments before the appeals court, Friend said sometime before he sat in the chair, Kang had it repaired. Kang should have known the chair wasn’t properly repaired, Friend argued.
Kang repeated his earlier argument: Friend’s exclusive remedy was workers’ comp because this was a workplace injury. He said there was no question that the chair was GBWY’s property.
Friend said he was hired to be a tow truck driver for Stateline Service Inc., not GBWY, therefore Stateline was his employer.
The appeals court wasn’t convinced. The judges said Stateline was simply GBWY’s “dba” (doing business as) alias. GBWY and Stateline were one in the same.
Friend also argued that Kang’s corporate position with GBWY doesn’t protect him from personal liability for maintaining a dangerous workplace, but the court found:
“it does not matter whether he personally owns the chair or the chair is a GBWY asset. The material facts (as alleged) are Kang provided the chair at his workplace and the chair allegedly injured one of his employees.”
The appeals court found Friend’s negligence claim against Kang was barred by the exclusive remedy of workers’ comp and upheld the trial court’s decision.
(Paul Friend v. William Kang et al, Court of Appeal of the State of California Fourth Appellate District Division Two, E063643, 6/30/16)