News & Insights

The Alabama Court Of Civil Appeals Disallows A Contractual Agreement Preventing Venue To Be Established In The State Of Alabama

In Sellers v. Venture Express, Inc. (not yet released for publication), the Plaintiff asserted a workers’ compensation action in the Circuit Court of Cullman County asserting an on-the-job injury in the course and scope of her employment with Defendant Venture Express.  The claimed  injury occurred in Alabama, but the Plaintiff and Defendant entered into an agreement stating that all workers’ compensation complaints were to be filed in Tennessee.  The Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint based on the agreement and the Trial Court granted the Motion.  The Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of her complaint.

On appeal, the Defendant asserted the agreement was valid pursuant to Ala. Code. § 25-5-35(c), which provides that “an employee whose duties require him to travel regularly in the service of his employer in this and one or more other states may, by written agreement with his employer, provide that his employment is principally localized in this or another such state; and, unless such other state refuses jurisdiction, such agreement shall be given effect under this section.”  Defendant argued that this provision allowed the parties to dictate venue by agreement.

The Court of Civil Appeals disagreed.  The Court reasoned that Ala. Code. § 25-5-35(c) only allows the parties to define where employment was principally localized.  The Court noted that Ala. Code. § 25-5-35(g) provides for Alabama venue for injuries occurring in the State of Alabama, even if the employment is principally localized in another state.  The Court further noted that subsection (b) also includes methods for the venue to be applied in Alabama when the employment is not principally localized in Alabama even when the injury did not occur in Alabama. 

Based on these provisions, the Court reasoned that merely allowing the parties to define where the employment is principally localized does not resolve the fundamental question of whether venue is proper.  The Court noted that there is no provision which allows the party to disclaim venue for an injury that occurs in Alabama, which is not dependent on where the employment is principally localized.  The Court also cited a general rule that an employer may not validly contract away the employee’s right to seek workers’ compensation benefits under the Act for a covered accident, citing Kennedy v. Cochran, 475 So. 2d 872 (Ala. Civ. App. 1985). 

Based on this analysis, the Court of Civil Appeals reversed the Trial Court’s dismissal of the action, indicating that for an injury that occurs in the State of Alabama, an agreement that states that venue must be in a different state will not be upheld.

This will obviously change employer’s strategy for handling agreements with their employees, as employers will not be able to avoid Alabama jurisdiction merely by agreement.