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01/27/95 CHAMPION INTERNATIONAL v. JOHNNY LEE

January 27, 1995

CHAMPION INTERNATIONAL, INC.
v.
JOHNNY LEE TRUITT AND SARAH TRUITT, AS CO-ADMINISTRATORS OF THE ESTATE OF MAYBELLE BIGGIOMS, DECEASED



Appeal from Henry Circuit Court. (CV-90-084). Denny L. Holloway, Trial Judge.

Released for Publication April 25, 1995.

Maddox, Almon, Shores, Houston, and Ingram, JJ., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Maddox

MADDOX, JUSTICE.

The sole issue presented in this case is whether the personal representative of a deceased dependentless employee, who was covered by the Workers' Compensation Act, can maintain a wrongful death action for damages against the employer under Article 2 of the Act.

Maybelle Biggioms was employed by Champion International, Inc., d/b/a Champion Paper Company ("Champion"), in Abbeville. On September 25, 1990, Biggioms was injured when she was struck by a piece of industrial equipment. It is undisputed that Biggioms was working in the line and scope of her employment when she was injured and that she later died as a proximate result of her injuries.

On December 10, 1990, Johnny Lee Truitt and Sarah Truitt, as next friends of Maybelle Biggioms, then a non compos mentis, filed a complaint seeking workers' compensation benefits from Champion. *fn1 Biggioms died on August 29, 1991, leaving no dependents. The Truitts were appointed co-administrators of Biggioms's estate, and they subsequently amended their complaint to assert "a death claim pursuant to Article 2 of the Workmen's Compensation Act for fault-based remedy for the death of a dependentless employee," claiming that Biggioms's injuries and subsequent death proximately resulted from the imputed negligence of Champion.

Champion moved for a summary judgment, arguing that when an employee covered by the Workers' Compensation Act dies from a job-related accident, without dependents, the exclusive remedy against an employer is the statutory recovery of burial and medical expenses. Champion argued to the trial court, and argues here on appeal, that the courts of Alabama have consistently held that Article 3 of the Workers' Compensation Act is an employee's exclusive remedy even in cases where the employee dies leaving no dependents.

The Truitts, relying heavily upon language in a special concurrence filed by Justice Jones in Yarchak v. Munford, Inc., 570 So. 2d 648 (Ala. 1990), *fn2 and upon an article written by Justice Jones entitled A Proposed Rewrite of the Alabama Worker's Compensation Act, 15: 1 Am.J.Trial Advoc. 1 (1991), successfully argued to the trial Judge that they were entitled to sue as the personal representatives under §§ 25-5-30 and 25-5-31, Ala. Code 1975, part of Article 2 of the Workers' Compensation Act, on the ground that Article 3 did not become "operative," because the decedent had died without any dependents. The basic argument of the Truitts in the trial court and here on appeal is that "where Article 3 does not provide a no-fault remedy, Article 2 provides a fault-based common law remedy for injury and a fault-based statutory remedy for wrongful death."

The trial court agreed with the Truitts and denied Champion's motion for summary judgment. Pursuant to Rule 5, Ala.R.App.P., Champion sought permission to appeal from the order denying its summary judgment motion. We granted that permission, and after duly considering the issue presented, we reverse and remand.

Article 3 of the Workers' Compensation Act provides:

"Except as provided in this article [article 3] and article 2, as the case may be, of this chapter, no employer included within the terms of this chapter shall be held civilly liable for any personal injury to or death of any workman who is an employee of the employer and whose injury or death is due to an accident while engaged in the service or business of the employer, the cause of which accident originates in the employment."

§ 25-5-53, Ala. Code 1975 (as it read before a May 1992 Amendment). *fn3 At the time applicable to this case, Article 2 of the Act provided:

"This article shall not apply in cases where Article 3 of this chapter becomes operative in accordance with the provisions thereof, but shall apply in all other cases, and in such cases shall ...


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