Under the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Act, suits in tort are typically barred under the Act’s exclusive remedy provision. However, in Jackson v. Jefferson Parish School Board, the Fifth Circuit recently vacated the trial court’s findings on this basis and instead found that an employee’s tort action against his former employer was improperly dismissed by an exception of no cause of action. The court remanded the case for further consideration on the grounds that none of the employee’s alleged conditions associated with lead-based poisoning (i.e., kidney disease, hypertension) were expressly enumerated in the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Act as included or excluded as an occupational disease. Because the determination of whether those conditions were compensable as an occupational disease needed to be made on a case-by-case basis, the employer’s defense of tort immunity was not appropriately brought by an exception of no cause of action.
Jackson v. Jefferson Parish School Board – Background
On July 27, 2020, the employee, Edward Jackson, filed suit against his former employer, Jefferson Parish School Board, alleging that he developed various medical conditions due to his exposure to lead-based paint throughout his employment as a maintenance man. The school board responded with a peremptory exception of no cause of action, arguing that under the Act, the employee was limited to workers’ compensation benefits given that chronic lead poisoning was an occupational disease. The board was therefore immune from the employee’s tort suit.
On January 28, 2021, the trial court sustained the school board’s exception on the grounds that the employee was exposed to lead-based paint in his capacity as a maintenance man; thus, he was exposed to the lead-based paint in the course and scope of his employment and was precluded from seeking tort damages.
The Fifth Circuit Ruling
On appeal, the court looked to the specific language of the Louisiana Worker’s Compensation Act, which provides that, “[a]n occupational disease means that only disease or illness which is due to causes and conditions characteristic of and peculiar to the particular trade.” Enumerated exclusions include degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, arthritis, mental illness, and heart-related or perivascular disease.
The court noted that none of the conditions alleged by the employee (kidney disease, hypertension) were specifically included or excluded under the Act. Thus, a determination of whether these conditions were compensable under the Act was dependent upon whether the condition “[was] due to causes and conditions characteristic of and peculiar to the particular trade.” Such a fact-intensive inquiry required evidence to evaluate whether the disease was peculiar to the employee’s trade.
In light of the foregoing, the court found that the school board’s defense of tort immunity was not appropriately brought by an exception of no cause of action. Rather, the school board should have introduced evidence for the trial court’s consideration and presented the above argument in a motion for summary judgment. The trial court’s judgment was therefore vacated, and the matter was remanded for further evaluation.