A Nebraska Supreme Court has ruled that a woman seriously injured in a fall down an empty elevator shaft at her workplace can sue a real estate company operated by her employers. Darlene Howsden was an employee of a Lincoln funeral home in 2009 when she attempted to cut through a makeshift hallway often used by employees. The hallway was created in an elevator shaft by the top of an elevator car that usually rested on the building’s basement floor. But Ms. Howsden didn’t know that the car had been moved. She fell 16 feet to the building’s basement floor and was badly injured.
Ms. Howsden received workers’ compensation benefits, but sued the real estate company that owned the mortuary to recover additional damages. The company, Roper’s Real Estate, is owned and operated by the same shareholders as Roper & Sons Inc., which operated the mortuary. Roper’s tried to convince the court that it essentially was the same company as the mortuary, making workers’ compensation benefits Ms. Howsden’s sole remedy for damages. But the state’s highest court disagreed, finding Roper’s Real Estate to be a separate entity from the funeral home, despite their corporate kinship. Supreme Court Judge John Gerrard, writing for the High Court, said:
One cannot claim the benefits of incorporation without the burdens. So, when two companies are corporations which benefit from legally recognized identities separate and apart from one another, they must also bear the responsibility and liability of such separation.
Ms. Howsden can now proceed with her suit for unspecified damages, including lost wages and pain and suffering for the back injuries she received. Joel Bacon, a lawyer, with Keating, O’Gara, Nedved & Peter, based in Lincoln, Neb., represents Ms. Howsden in her suit.
Source: Claims Journal
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