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Memphis Gas Faces Third-Party Lawsuit Over Injuries to Maintenance Workers


Under Tennessee workers’ compensation law, an injured employee normally cannot sue their employer over a work-related accident, regardless of the employer’s actual fault. This rule does not, however, bar the employee from suing any third party whose acts may have contributed to their injuries. Nor does it necessarily prevent that third party from taking legal action against the employer over who was actually to blame for the accident.

An ongoing lawsuit before a Tennessee federal judge, Elliott v. Illinois Central Railroad Company, helps to illustrate what we are talking about. In this case, the plaintiffs were employees of Memphis Light Gas & Water (MLGW), who were assigned to replace a utility pole located near an active railroad track owned by Illinois Central Railroad (ICR). While performing their maintenance work, the plaintiffs said they suddenly realized an ICR train was heading towards their position. The plaintiffs quickly got out of the oncoming train’s way, but they sustained injuries in the process.

The plaintiffs subsequently sued ICR for negligence. ICR then brought a third-party complaint against MLGW, alleging the latter was required to indemnify it against any damages ultimately awarded to the plaintiffs. ICR cited a right-of-way agreement it originally signed with MLGW back in 1940, which expressly provided the utility would “indemnify and save harmless” the railroad for any claim arising from “injury to persons” caused by MLGW’s negligence in maintaining electrical lines on the railroad’s property.

MLGW moved to dismiss ICR’s claims on multiple grounds. U.S. District Judge Thomas L. Parker only provided MLGW limited relief. The judge agreed with MLGW that the contractual language described above did not apply here, as “injury to persons” did not contemplate injuries to MLGW’s own employees, as those are already covered by Tennessee workers’ compensation law. Put another way, MLGW cannot seek a court order requiring ICR to indemnify MLGW for its own conduct that may have injured the plaintiffs.

That said, Parker also held that ICR could seek a judgment against MLGW over its alleged negligence in “how it directed and authorized Plaintiffs to repair and replace the utility pole.” But again, MLGW can only potentially recover for injuries other than those sustained by the plaintiffs.

Separately, Parker rejected MLGW’s position that the Tennessee statute of limitations applicable to workers’ compensation cases prohibited ICR from bringing its third-party claims when it did. Parker explained that ICR’s case against MLGW is not rooted in workers’ compensation law at all–rather it is based on negligence and breach of contract.

Speak with a Tennessee Personal Injury Lawyer Today

Workers’ compensation often limits how much an injured worker can receive from their own employer. But these restrictions do not apply to third parties. So if you have been seriously hurt in a work-related accident caused by a third party, you should speak with a qualified Nashville personal injury attorney who can advise you of your rights. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, today to schedule a free consultation.




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