Falls v. Union Drilling Inc., No. 33907.

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtPer Curiam
Citation672 S.E.2d 204
Decision Date10 December 2008
Docket NumberNo. 33907.
PartiesAntionette FALLS, Plaintiff Below, Appellant, v. UNION DRILLING INC., a Delaware corporation, Kevin Wright, Donald Roach, Linda Hall, and W. Va. Insurance Company, Defendants Below, Appellees.
672 S.E.2d 204
Antionette FALLS, Plaintiff Below, Appellant,
v.
UNION DRILLING INC., a Delaware corporation, Kevin Wright, Donald Roach, Linda Hall, and W. Va. Insurance Company, Defendants Below, Appellees.
No. 33907.
Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.
Submitted: October 8, 2008.
Decided: December 10, 2008.
Dissenting Opinion of Justice Starcher December 30, 2008.

[672 S.E.2d 205]

Syllabus by the Court

1. "Where the issue on an appeal from the circuit court is clearly a question of law or involving an interpretation of a statute, we apply a de novo standard of review." Syllabus Point 1, Chrystal R.M. v. Charlie A.L., 194 W.Va. 138, 459 S.E.2d 415 (1995).

2. "Appellate review of a circuit court's order granting a motion to dismiss a complaint is de novo." Syllabus Point 2, State ex rel. McGraw v. Scott Runyan Pontiac-Buick, Inc., 194 W.Va. 770, 461 S.E.2d 516 (1995).

3. "An employer who is otherwise entitled to the immunity provided by W. Va.Code § 23-2-6 (1991) may lose that immunity in only one of three ways: (1) by defaulting in payments required by the Workers' Compensation Act or otherwise failing to be in compliance with the Act; (2) by acting with deliberate intention to cause an employee's injury as set forth in § 23-4-2(d); or (3) in such other circumstances where the Legislature has by statute expressly provided an employee a private remedy outside the workers' compensation system." Syllabus Point 2, Bias v. Eastern Associated Coal Corp., 220 W.Va. 190, 640 S.E.2d 540 (2006).

4. "An employee is entitled to compensation for an injury sustained in going to or coming from his work, only where such injury occurs within the zone of his employment, and that zone must be determined by the circumstances of the particular case presented." Syllabus Point 1, Carper v. Workmen's Compensation Comm'r, 121 W.Va. 1, 1 S.E.2d 165 (1939).

5. "An injury, resulting in death, received by an employee while traveling upon a public highway in the same manner and for like purposes as the general public travels such highway, and not in performance of his duties for his employer, is not an injury received in the course of employment within the meaning of the Workmen's Compensation

[672 S.E.2d 206]

Act and is, therefore, not compensable." Syllabus, Buckland v. State Compensation Comm'r, 115 W.Va. 323, 175 S.E. 785 (1934).

6. "Workmen's compensation law generally recognizes that an employee is entitled to compensation for an injury received while traveling on behalf of the employer's business." Syllabus Point 1, Calloway v. State Workmen's Compensation Comm'r, 165 W.Va. 432, 268 S.E.2d 132 (1980).

7. "Injury or death of an employee of a subscriber to the Compensation Fund occurring upon a public highway and not on the premises of the employer, gives right to participate in the fund, when `the place of injury was brought within the scope of employment by an express or implied requirement of the contract of employment, of its use by the servant in going to and returning from work.'" Syllabus Point 1, Canoy v. State Compensation Comm'r, 113 W.Va. 914, 170 S.E. 184 (1933).

David J. Romano, Esq., Sarah E. Wagner, Rachel E. Ramano, Romano Law Office, Clarksburg, for Appellant.

Stuart A. McMillan, Esq., Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love, PLLC, Charleston, for Appellees Union Drilling, Inc. and Kevin Wright.

Charles R. Bailey, Esq., Ryan Flanigan, Esq., Bailey & Wyant, PLLC, Charleston, for Appellee, Donald Roach.

David A. Sims, Esq., Gregory R. Tingler, Esq., Law Offices of David A. Sims, PLLC, Elkins, for Appellee, W. Va. Insurance Company.

PER CURIAM:1.


In the instant matter, Appellant Antionette Falls, individually and in her capacity as administratrix of the estate of Daniel E. Falls,2 seeks reversal of and/or the prohibition of the Circuit Court of Harrison County's June 21, 2007, order dismissing her common-law negligence claims against Union Drilling, Inc., and its employees, Donald Roach and Kevin Wright (collectively the "Defendants") for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted on the grounds that defendants were entitled to immunity under West Virginia Workers' Compensation Act, W. Va.Code § 23-1-1. After careful consideration of the briefs and arguments in this proceeding, as well as the pertinent legal authorities, we affirm the circuit court's order.

I.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Daniel Falls was fatally injured in a single vehicle accident that occurred while he and his supervisor3, Donald Roach, were traveling home to Spelter, Harrison County, West Virginia, from a Union Drilling worksite located in Marshall County, West Virginia. On the previous work day, Donald Roach had worked at least one extra shift in addition to the five, regularly-scheduled eight-hour shifts he was scheduled to work that week.4 Roach drove home to Harrison County after his shifts ended, giving Daniel Falls a ride. During that drive, Roach lost control of the vehicle5 and Daniel Falls was fatally injured.

672 S.E.2d 207

Appellant filed the instant wrongful death action in the Circuit Court of Harrison County against Union Drilling, Donald Roach, Kevin Wright6, Linda Hall, and W. Va. Insurance Company, Hall's insurer, alleging that Roach had fallen asleep at the wheel due to being overworked by his employer.7 Appellant's Complaint alleges that Union Drilling "negligently and recklessly" required Falls, Roach, and other employees to "consistently work excessive hours without adequate rest or sleep." Therefore, Appellant contends that Falls' injuries were the direct and proximate result of the alleged workplace negligence of Union Drilling. The Complaint pled that the actions and omissions of Roach and Wright were "within the scope of their employment and/or agency relationship with Union Drilling", thus permitting consideration of the doctrine of respondeat superior or vicarious liability against Union Drilling.

Appellees filed motions to dismiss the action asserting that because Appellant's theory of liability rested solely on the work-related activities of Union Drilling, the tort law claims against them were barred by statutory immunity provided by West Virginia Code § 23-2-6. The circuit court granted said motions, dismissing Appellant's claims, finding that the Appellees were entitled to sweeping immunity from common tort claims for negligently inflicted injuries brought by employees, citing Bias v. Eastern Associated Coal Corp., 220 W.Va. 190, 640 S.E.2d 540 (2006). The court held that no statute expressly provides Appellant with a private remedy outside of the workers' compensation system. Accordingly, the court concluded that Appellant failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

Thereafter, Appellant filed a Motion for Reconsideration and a Motion to Amend her original Complaint to include a deliberate intent cause of action. By order dated August 13, 2007, the circuit court denied Appellant's Motion for Reconsideration, but granted the Motion to Amend, permitting the Appellant to allege a deliberate intent case. Appellant then filed a motion to certify a question of law to this Court on August 16, 2007. The circuit court denied said motion finding that this Court's decision in Bias v. Eastern Associated Coal Corp., 220 W.Va. 190, 640 S.E.2d 540, was controlling substantively, and because procedurally, the circuit court's dismissal order was final and appealable. Appellant filed her Petition for Appeal or Alternatively Writ of Prohibition on October 23, 2007.8

II.
STANDARD OF REVIEW

The question presented on appeal is purely a question of law. The central issue we are called upon to decide here is

672 S.E.2d 208

whether the immunity provisions of West Virginia Code § 23-2-6 immunize employers and co-employees from common law liability for death or injury that occurs where an employee is killed on a public highway while riding in a vehicle driven by another employee who falls asleep at the wheel after both employees have left the employer's premises after working a double shift. "Where the issue on an appeal from the circuit court is clearly a question of law or involving an interpretation of a statute, we apply a de novo standard of review." Syl. Pt. 1, Chrystal R.M. v. Charlie A.L., 194 W.Va. 138, 459 S.E.2d 415 (1995). Furthermore, "[a]ppellate review of a circuit court's order granting a motion to dismiss a complaint is de novo." Syl. Pt. 2, State ex rel. McGraw v. Scott Runyan Pontiac-Buick, Inc., 194 W.Va. 770, 461 S.E.2d 516 (1995). With this standard of review in mind, we proceed to consider the issues before us.

III.
DISCUSSION

Appellant asserts three assignments of error. First, Appellant contends that the circuit court's conclusion that Appellees are shielded from common-law liability by the immunity provisions of the West Virginia Workers' Compensation Act is incompatible with long-standing precedent of this Court. Second, Appellant asserts that the circuit court's ruling creates an unnecessary constitutional confrontation between her right to a certain remedy and jury trial and the immunity provisions of the West Virginia Workers' Compensation Act. Third, Appellant alleges that the circuit court's conclusion violates the public policy of this State. We will address each of these arguments in turn.

Under West Virginia's Workers' Compensation system, employers are entitled to immunity from suit for work-related injuries brought by employees. West Virginia Code § 23-2-6 provides that:

[a]ny employer subject to this chapter who subscribes and pays into the workers compensation fund the premiums provided by this chapter or who elects to make direct payments of compensation as provided in this section is not liable to respond in damages at common law or by statute for the injury or death of any employee, however occurring, after so subscribing or electing, and during any period in which the employer is not in default in the payment of the premiums or...

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7 practice notes
  • Tex. E. Transmission, LP v. W. Va. Dep't of Envtl. Prot., Div. of Mining & Reclamation, No. 16-0827
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 16, 2017
    ...Rule was raised below and will exercise our discretion to consider the same. Cf . Falls v. Union Drilling Inc ., 223 W. Va. 68, 71 n.8, 672 S.E.2d 204, 207 n.8 (2008) (per curiam) ("Although this interlocutory matter is not, as a matter of procedure, technically proper before us as an appea......
  • Roof Serv. of Bridgeport, Inc. v. Trent, No. 19-0200
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 20, 2020
    ...of the event and Mr. Trent's other health problems.3 We reject Roof Service's argument that Falls v. Union Drilling, Inc. 223 W.Va. 68, 672 S.E.2d 204 (2008) (per curiam) best demonstrates the circuit court's error in failing to grant it judgment as a matter of law. In Falls , the Court con......
  • Rodriguez v. Permian Drilling Corp.., No. 32,311.
    • United States
    • New Mexico Supreme Court of New Mexico
    • July 19, 2011
    ...accordingly were entitled to recovery under the workers' compensation scheme. Id.; see also Falls v. Union Drilling Inc., 223 W.Va. 68, 672 S.E.2d 204, 212–13 (2008) (concluding that a “special hazard or increased risk” existed in the scope of the employment when an oil rig worker worked an......
  • Chevron United Statesa., Inc. v. John Robert Bonar & John & Werner Law Offices, PLLC, No. 16-1213
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • February 14, 2018
    ...the Rule was raised below and will exercise our discretion to consider the same."); Falls v. Union Drilling Inc., 223 W. Va. 68, 71 n.8, 672 S.E.2d 204, 207 n.8 (2008) (per curiam) ("Although this interlocutory matter is not, as a matter of procedure, technically proper before us as an appe......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
7 cases
  • Tex. E. Transmission, LP v. W. Va. Dep't of Envtl. Prot., Div. of Mining & Reclamation, No. 16-0827
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 16, 2017
    ...Rule was raised below and will exercise our discretion to consider the same. Cf . Falls v. Union Drilling Inc ., 223 W. Va. 68, 71 n.8, 672 S.E.2d 204, 207 n.8 (2008) (per curiam) ("Although this interlocutory matter is not, as a matter of procedure, technically proper before us as an appea......
  • Roof Serv. of Bridgeport, Inc. v. Trent, No. 19-0200
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 20, 2020
    ...of the event and Mr. Trent's other health problems.3 We reject Roof Service's argument that Falls v. Union Drilling, Inc. 223 W.Va. 68, 672 S.E.2d 204 (2008) (per curiam) best demonstrates the circuit court's error in failing to grant it judgment as a matter of law. In Falls , the Court con......
  • Rodriguez v. Permian Drilling Corp.., No. 32,311.
    • United States
    • New Mexico Supreme Court of New Mexico
    • July 19, 2011
    ...accordingly were entitled to recovery under the workers' compensation scheme. Id.; see also Falls v. Union Drilling Inc., 223 W.Va. 68, 672 S.E.2d 204, 212–13 (2008) (concluding that a “special hazard or increased risk” existed in the scope of the employment when an oil rig worker worked an......
  • Chevron United Statesa., Inc. v. John Robert Bonar & John & Werner Law Offices, PLLC, No. 16-1213
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • February 14, 2018
    ...the Rule was raised below and will exercise our discretion to consider the same."); Falls v. Union Drilling Inc., 223 W. Va. 68, 71 n.8, 672 S.E.2d 204, 207 n.8 (2008) (per curiam) ("Although this interlocutory matter is not, as a matter of procedure, technically proper before us as an appe......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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