Defendants in a Munster wrongful death lawsuit are asking the Indiana Supreme Court to weigh in on whether a woman who drowned in the pastors’ pool was an independent contractor or an employee of the pastors or the church. The answer to that question matters because under Indiana’s Workers’ Compensation Law, workers’ compensation death benefits would be considered the exclusive remedy for an employee killed in the course and scope of employment. However, independent contractors in Indiana aren’t entitled to workers’ compensation, and they would thus have the right to file a lawsuit against the company.
As our attorneys can explain, there are some key differences between the two types of cases. On the positive side, with workers’ compensation, one does not need to prove the defendant/employer did anything wrong (i.e., was negligent). It’s a no-fault system, and payments should be made as long as the injury or death arose out of and in the course of one’s employment. However, recipients of death benefits cannot pursue certain types of damages, such as pain and suffering, loss of life enjoyment, or loss of consortium. Those damages are available in an Indiana wrongful death case.
Here, the plaintiff (the decedent’s mother) is asserting she was an independent contractor, and therefore the exclusive remedy provision of the law doesn’t apply, so she is free to pursue her claim in state court. The church is arguing she was an employee, and the exclusive remedy rule does apply, so the claim must be weighed by the state’s Workers’ Compensation Board.