This case involves the limitations placed on an injured employee's right to maintain a tort action by our Workmen's Compensation Act, R.S. 23:1021, et seq. Plaintiff, Willie Johnson, was employed by Vincent Construction Company as a pipefitter. During the course and scope of his employment, Johnson was injured when a steel pipe accidentally fell on his foot. The pipe was being transferred from pipe jacks to the ground by a backhoe tractor operated by James Alexander, an employee of Dupont and Alexander Equipment Corporation. Vincent Construction, the principal contractor, had contracted with Dupont and Alexander as subcontractor for the rental of the backhoe and the services of its operator.
The trial judge found James Alexander negligent, and that his negligence was the cause in fact of the accident. Further, the court reasoned that, because the backhoe operator was neither a borrowed servant nor a statutory employee of Vincent Construction (the principal contractor), defendants were subject to proceedings in tort. Accordingly, judgment was rendered against all defendants, in solido, in the amount of $102,476.06 with interest until paid. USF&G was also allowed to recover its expenditures, with preference, out of plaintiff's award.
The court of appeal, 406 So.2d 1378, agreed the backhoe operator's negligence was a cause in fact of plaintiff's injuries. However, the court was of the opinion that, because a principal-subcontractor relationship existed between Vincent Construction and Dupont and Alexander, the backhoe operator was a statutory employee of Vincent Construction
We granted writs to determine whether an employee of a principal who is injured by an employee of a subcontractor at the jobsite can maintain proceedings in tort against the tortfeasor, the subcontractor and the subcontractor's liability insurer.
Workmen's compensation is a compromise whereby the employer surrenders immunity from fault and the employee surrenders the right to sue the employer for the full amount of his damages. Malone & Johnson, Workmen's Compensation, Sec. 32 in 13 Louisiana Civil Law Treatise 40 (1980). By its nature, workmen's compensation is a remedy between the employer and his employee. Without the employer-employee
To prevent an employer from evading his compensation responsibility by imposing an insolvent subcontractor between himself and his employees, the legislature "statutorily" created an employer-employee relationship between a principal and the employees of the subcontractor. Travelers Ins. Co. v. Paramount Drilling Co., Inc., 395 So.2d 849 (La.App. 2nd Cir. 1981); Wofford v. Dow Chemical Co., supra. Thus, when a principal employs a subcontractor to execute the whole or any part of the principal's trade, business or occupation, the principal's liability to any injured employee of the contractor is limited to the same extent as if the injured employee had been immediately employed by the principal. R.S. 23:1061. As a result, recovery of workmen's compensation benefits is the exclusive remedy of the "statutory" employee against his own employer, as well as the principal and employees of such employer or principal. R.S. 23:1032. Redler v. Louisiana Power & Light, 383 So.2d 409 (La.App. 4th Cir. 1980).
However, there is no provision in the statutory scheme which creates an employer-employee relationship between the subcontractor and the principal's employees. As a result, the subcontractor has no liability for compensation payments to injured employees of the principal. Without any obligation to pay benefits, the subcontractor has not participated in the mutual compromise contemplated by our workmen's compensation law and is not immune from suit in tort. See Wofford v. Dow Chemical Co., supra; Malone & Johnson, supra, Sec. 368 in 14 Louisiana Civil Law Treatise.
Further, though workmen's compensation benefits are a statutory employee's exclusive remedy when injured by employees of the principal, there is no provision in our workmen's compensation act which grants immunity from suit to a "statutory co-employee" who injures the principal's employee during the course and scope of employment. Absent a statutory provision to the contrary, the employees of the subcontractor must be considered third persons as far as the employees of the principal are concerned and subject to proceedings in tort. Benoit v. Hunt Tool Co., 53 So.2d 137 (La.1951); Malone v. Johnson, supra, Sec. 368 in 14 Louisiana Civil Law Treatise.
The appellate court, by dismissing Johnson's suit, pretermitted consideration of the issues concerning contributory negligence, assumption of risk and the trial court's award of damages. These issues are to be addressed on remand of the case.
For these reasons, the judgment in favor of defendants is reversed and the case is remanded to the court of appeal for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
REVERSED AND REMANDED.