Henry v. Benyo

In Henry v. Benyo, 203 W.Va. 172, 506 S.E.2d 615 (1998), this Court examined comparable statutory language in the context of a similar factual scenario. In Henry, a construction company employee was injured in the course of his employment while operating a crane owned by his employer. The employee's injuries were caused by a third party, who had no employment relationship with the injured employee's employer. The injured employee received workers' compensation benefits as a result of his injuries. Additionally, the employee noticed his employer and its insurer that he intended to seek UIM benefits under the employer's motor vehicle insurance policy covering the crane on which he was injured in the event judgment against the third-party tortfeasor exceeded the limits of the tortfeasor's automobile insurance coverage. Although the insurance policy at issue in Henry did not include a workers' compensation exclusion, the employer's insurer denied UIM coverage, inter alia, on the ground that, under the employer immunity provisions of this state's workers' compensation statutes, the injured employee was barred from seeking damages from his employer because he had received workers' compensation benefits. The Court, in Henry, held that although UIM coverage would not be available to an employee who receives workers' compensation benefits for injuries caused by a co-employee, the employee could seek UIM coverage if his injuries were caused by a third-party tortfeasor. Id., at syl. Pt. 4. In so holding, the Court relied, in part, on the following statutory language: "The provisions of subsections ( a) and (b) of this section shall not apply to any policy of insurance to the extent that it covers the liability of an employer to his employees under any workers' compensation law." W.Va. Code 33-6-31(h) See Henry, 203 W.Va. at 177, 506 S.E.2d at 620. The Court explained in Henry that: "the plain language of W.Va. Code 33-6-31(h) prohibits an employee from collecting from his/her employer's underinsured motorist insurance coverage if his/her injuries are already covered by workers' compensation and if the accident is a result of the employer's or a coemployee's actions (i.e., "the employer's liability"). Stated otherwise, if the employee's injuries were caused by the employer, a coemployee, or, possibly, by some inadvertence of the employee him/herself (as compared to a third-party stranger to the employment relationship) thereby rendering the employer 'liable,' or 'at fault, 'for the accident, the employee cannot collect workers' compensation benefits and then seek an additional recovery from the employer just because the employer has motor vehicle insurance that coincidentally also covers the employee's injuries. Rather, the employee is limited in his/her recovery to workers' compensation benefits because of the immunity provided to employers and coemployees by the workers' compensation statutes. Where, however, an employee's work-related injuries are caused by a third-party... W.Va. Code 33-6-31(h) does not apply because the employer is not 'liable 'for the accident. In this scenario, it is the third-party who is technically 'at fault 'for the collision and resultant damages. Therefore, while the employee may recover workers' compensation benefits for his/her injuries resulting from the accident which occurred in the course and scope of his/her employment, he/she is not statutorily barred from also pursuing his/her claims against the third-party as this individual does not enjoy the immunity afforded by the workers' compensation statutes. (Id., 203 W.Va. at 177-78, 506 S.E.2d at 620-21.)