Canadian Supreme Court Throws Out Decades Old Workers Comp Claim – Implications for North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Laws?

March 8, 2010, by Michael A. DeMayo

Pundits and policymakers who debate North Carolina workers’ compensation are abuzz about the latest news out of Canada’s Supreme Court regarding a 16-year old workers’ compensation dispute that followed a deadly mine explosion.

Here is the background.

In 1992, a bitter labor dispute at Yellowknife Giant Mine led to riots. One of the rioting miners, Roger Warren, was so distraught that he planted an explosive in one of the mines and detonated it via a trip wire. The explosion killed nine miners. Although Warren himself was quickly convicted and is now serving a life sentence in prison, his action set off a legal dispute between the widows of the miners killed and organizations that they alleged were indirectly responsible (and thus liable) for Warren’s actions.

The miners’ widows sued the Canadian Auto Workers, Royal Oak Mines, and the security firm that was supposed to protect the site, Pinkerton’s of Canada, as well as the Government of Canada’s Northwest Territories. In a lower court decision, the widows won a payout of $10.7 million in 2004. But the Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision, citing the fact that the parties named did not have sufficient control over the actions of Roger Warren and could not have anticipated that he would commit such a destructive act.

How might the Canadian Supreme Court’s rejection of these miner widows’ claims impact North Carolina workers’ compensation legislation?

Peripherally at best. However, the case does raise some interesting points of law that have international implications.

For one, it re-raises the long running debate over the definition of indirect liability. If someone else causes significant damage (that merits, for instance, a North Carolina workers’ compensation claim), and a third party could theoretically be indirectly implicated in the primary agitators’ actions, what is correct legal remedy? Obviously, in the abstract, you simply can’t answer that question. In this case in Canada, the Supreme Court found that parties like Pinkerton’s and the Government of Northwest Territory could not be liable for the actions of the renegade angry miner. But you can certainly find analogous cases in Canada and in the United States, in which a third party can be held significantly liable for damages that a subordinate party causes.

For instance, let’s say a trucking company hires a driver and fails to vet the drivers’ safety record effectively. The driver then goes out and causes a car accident, which causes permanent spinal damage to a passenger in another vehicle. Although the truck driver who caused the accident was primarily responsible, the injured victim could probably make a great case against the truck company itself for providing the dangerous driver with a truck to drive in the first place.

If you or a family member has been involved in any kind of North Carolina workers’ compensation dispute, you may want to speak with a veteran, highly credentialed North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney ASAP to get a better understanding of your rights and strategic possibilities moving forward.

More Web Resources:

Yellowknife Giant Mine – original verdict

Widows Lose Appeal


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