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Alabama Court Of Civil Appeals Addresses Scope Of Jurisdiction For Out Of State Injuries

In Hand Constr., LLC v. Stringer, the Court of Civil Appeals addressed an issue regarding the scope of jurisdiction under the Alabama Worker’s Compensation Act for out of state injuries. The Plaintiff, a resident of Mobile, Alabama, entered into a contract for hire with a construction contractor operating out of Shreveport, Louisiana. The job offer was communicated to the Plaintiff while he was in Mobile, but he traveled to Louisiana to sign the employment contract.

The Plaintiff worked for the contractor at construction sites in Louisiana and North Dakota, but did not perform any work in Alabama. After the employment contract was terminated, the contractor paid for the Claimant to fly to North Dakota to collect equipment and drive it back in a pickup truck. While en route to Mobile from North Dakota, the Plaintiff was involved a motor vehicle accident in Arkansas and sustained multiple injuries.

The Plaintiff brought suit for his workers compensation injuries in the Mobile County Circuit Court. The trial court awarded benefits, asserting that jurisdiction was proper because the Plaintiff was “working under a contract of hire made in this state in employment not principally localized in any state.”

On appeal, the Court of Civil Appeals reversed, noting neither prong of the test relied on by the circuit court was satisfied by substantial evidence. The Court noted that, although the Plaintiff worked in other states, his work in North Dakota lasted for six months, with ten days working in North Dakota, in employer provided housing, followed by four or five “off days” in Alabama. The Court found that this evidence showed that the Plaintiff’s work was principally localized in North Dakota. As to the first prong, the Court noted the trial court found a second employment contract was formed when the Plaintiff was asked to drive equipment from North Dakota. However, that instruction was communicated in Shreveport, and there was no evidence a contract for hire was formed in Alabama. The Court did not address where the original contract for hire was formed.

Finally, the Court noted that because the Plaintiff’s employment was principally localized in North Dakota, the Plaintiff bore the burden to prove that North Dakota’s workers compensation program did not apply. The Court rejected the Plaintiff’s attempt to shift that burden to the Defendant.

The Court therefore reversed the trial court’s award of benefits, finding that it did not have proper jurisdiction.