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Burton v. PLS Construction, 2015 WL 4154116 (Del. Super. July 6, 2015)

The Superior Court affirms the Industrial Accident Board decision concluding that the Delaware IAB lacked jurisdiction to hear a case involving an alleged work accident that occurred in Texas because the claimant’s contract of hire was not made in Delaware.

The claimant, Steven Burton, filed a Petition to Determine Compensation Due with the Delaware IAB, alleging that he was injured at a jobsite in Texas while attempting to pull heavy grates from a trench. He lives in Delaware, but his job requires him to work in multiple states. In the decision below, the Board determined that it did not have jurisdiction over Mr. Burton’s claim for two reasons: (1) the claimant’s employment was not principally localized in Delaware, so he did not qualify for benefits in Delaware under 19 Del. C. § 2303(a)(1) and (2) the claimant’s employment contract of hire was not made in Delaware, so he did not qualify for benefits under 19 Del. C. § 2303(a)(2). Therefore, he was not entitled to Delaware workers’ compensation benefits regardless of whether he was able to satisfy subsection (2)’s other requirement that his employment is “not principally localized in any state.” The claimant appealed the contract of hire determination to the Superior Court.

The Court held that substantial evidence existed in the record to support the Board’s conclusion that the claimant’s contract of hire was not made in Delaware, but rather, was made in Texas. In particular, the Court noted that, while Mr. Burton had completed his job application in Delaware, his new hire paperwork was accepted and processed in Texas. Additionally, although the claimant made contact with an employer representative in Delaware to discuss his prospective employment, that representative had no authority to hire the claimant. The Delaware representative was required to make a recommendation to executives in Texas, where the ultimate hiring decision was made. The Court observed that this analysis was supported by opinions of courts in other jurisdictions that had analyzed the same issue: where a contract of hire was formed. In those cases, like here, applications had been forwarded from one location to another and the contract of hire was found to be the state where the application was approved. The Court reasoned that all of the meaningful events in the hiring process took place in Texas. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Board’s decision that it did not have jurisdiction over the workers’ compensation claim.

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