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Griggs v. Bounce N' Around Inflatables, L.L.C.

Supreme Court of Louisiana

January 30, 2019

TASHA GRIGGS, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF HER MINOR SON, AUSTIN GRIGGS
v.
BOUNCE N' AROUND INFLATABLES, L.L.C. AND JACK ALAN LEBLANC

          ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEAL, FIRST CIRCUIT, PARISH OF ASCENSION

          PER CURIAM.

         In this case, we are called upon to decide a question we left unresolved in Mott v. River Parish Maintenance, 432 So.2d 827 (La. 1983) - namely, whether a minor who is illegally hired and engaged in a prohibited task at the time of his injury is subject to the exclusive remedy of the workers' compensation law. For the reasons that follow, we hold that the exclusive remedy provisions are applicable under these facts.

         UNDERLYING FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The salient facts of this matter are largely undisputed. Bounce N' Around Inflatables ("BNA") is a party rental business that rents a variety of inflatables for social events. BNA stored the inflatables in a warehouse on racks approximately ten feet high and moved them around on dollies, using a battery operated pallet-jack.

         BNA hired fourteen-year-old Austin Griggs ("Austin") as a helper to assist in the delivering and cleaning of the inflatables. Louisiana law provides that "[m]inors fourteen and fifteen years of age may be employed in any gainful occupation not prohibited in this Part, only after school hours and during nonschool days." La. R.S. 23:166. However, any person who employs a minor is required to procure and keep on file an employment certificate for the minor. La. R.S. 23:181 et seq. It is undisputed that BNA did not obtain such a certificate for Austin. Additionally, La. R.S. 23:163(2) provides, "[n]o minor under the age of sixteen years shall be employed, permitted, or suffered to work . . . [i]n, or about, or in connection with power-driven machinery."

         The accident which forms the basis for this litigation occurred when Austin, then age fifteen, was standing on an inflatable as it was lifted to the rack by a forklift. Austin fell to the ground from the forklift, and was further injured when the inflatable fell and hit him on the back.

         Following the injury, BNA's workers' compensation insurer paid Austin workers' compensation and medical benefits. Austin eventually returned to work at BNA, with his mother's permission.

         The instant litigation arose when Austin's mother, individually and on behalf of Austin (hereinafter referred to as "plaintiffs"), filed suit against BNA, its owner and insurer (collectively referred to hereinafter as "defendants"). The suit sought to recover tort damages arising out of the injury.

         The matter proceeded to a bench trial. At the conclusion of trial, the district court awarded plaintiffs $125, 000 in general damages and $24, 517 in special damages, plus legal interest and costs.[1] In written reasons for judgment, the district court found defendants illegally employed Austin because they failed to obtain an employment certificate. The court further found Austin was engaged in an illegal task (working with power-driven machinery) at the time of the accident.

         In finding the exclusive remedy provisions of the workers' compensation law did not apply, the district court relied on Ewert v. Georgia Casualty & Surety Co., 548 So.2d 358 (La.App. 3 Cir. 1989), writ denied, 551 So.2d 1339 (La. 1989), and Patterson v. Martin Forest Products, Inc., 34, 258 (La.App. 2 Cir. 12/15/00), 774 So.2d 1148, writ denied, 00-3559 (La. 3/16/01), 787 So.2d 311, for the proposition that workers' compensation exclusivity provisions do not control over child labor laws, and a minor's illegal employment does not amount to an election of remedies under the workers' compensation law.

         Defendants appealed. The Court of Appeal, First Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part, dismissing plaintiffs' tort claims with prejudice.[2] The court of appeal found Austin's claims were subject to the exclusive remedy provision contained in the workers' compensation law. In reaching this conclusion, the court of appeal explicitly declined to follow the holdings of Ewert, supra and Patterson, supra. The court instead relied on its prior decision in Noble v. Blume Tree Services, Inc., 94-0589 (La.App. 1 Cir. 11/10/94), 646 So.2d 441, writ denied, 94-2999 (La. 2/17/95), 650 So.2d 252, which held that an illegally-hired minor was subject to the exclusivity provisions.

         Upon plaintiffs' application, we granted certiorari to resolve this split in the circuits.

         DISCUSSION

         In Mott v. River Parish Maintenance, 432 So.2d 827, 831 (La. 1983), we addressed the issue of whether a minor who was legally hired, but performing an illegal task at the time of his injury, was limited to the workers' compensation remedy. We reviewed the history of the workers' compensation act and concluded it applied to the minor:

La. R.S. 23:1035, providing for coverage under the act, states that the act is applicable to "every person" with no indication whatsoever that it did not apply to minors, legally or illegally employed. Furthermore, since the appellate courts had, between 1948 and 1975, rendered numerous decisions holding that the act did apply to minor employees who were below the minimum age prescribed by law for employment in certain trades or to do certain jobs, use of the term "every person" in the coverage provision must have been with the intent that such minors remain covered under the act.
We find no merit to plaintiff's argument that he is not covered by the workers' compensation act because his injuries occurred while he was performing a task prohibited, ...

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