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Migrant labor.

Migrant labor

Migrant agricultural workers injured at work may sue their employer for damages under Federal law even though they already have received benefits under State law, the Supreme Court has ruled in Adams Fruit Co. v. Barrett. In reaching this conclusion, the Court rejected the argument that the Federal Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, a law enacted to protect the safety and health of migrant and seasonal farmworkers, allows States to limit farmworkers' remedies for on-the-job injuries to remedies that are provided under State workers' compensation laws.

The farmworkers in Adams Fruit had been injured in a traffic accident that occurred while their employer was driving them to work. Although the workers filed for and received Florida workers' compensation benefits, they also filed suit under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, which allows workers to recover their actual damages.21 Under the Florida scheme, an employer generally is not required to compensate its employees for their actual damages.

In contending that remedies should not be available to the farmworkers under the Federal law, the employer presented two arguments. First, it argued that the Court should give effect to Florida law, which provides that its workers' compensation remedies "shall be exclusive and in place of all other liability of [the] employer to ... the employee." In the employer's view, this position is consistent with the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, which, by its terms, is intended to "supplement" State law." The employer also argued that a provision in the Federal law waiving motor vehicle insurance and bonding requirements for employers covered by State workers' compensation laws is an indication that Congress intended to preclude liability under the Federal statute in situations in which State workers' compensation coverage is provided.

Justice Thurgood Marshall, for a unanimous Court, rejected the employer's arguments. The enforcement provisions of the Federal law, which grant private individuals the right to sue for damages, "in no way intimate that the availability of that right is affected by state workers' compensation law.1121 In his opinion, if Congress had wanted to limit Federal remedies to cases in which State workers' compensation coverage is inadequate, it would have included such a limitation in the enforcement provisions of the Federal law, where private lawsuits are authorized. He noted that the insurance waiver provision had been placed in the motor vehicle safety portion of the Federal law, an indication that Congress did not intend to limit Federal remedies.21

Similarly, Justice Marshall held that, in providing that the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act should "supplement" State law, Congress did not intend to permit States to supplant Federal remedies. In his words, "Federal legislation applies in all States, and in cases of conflict between federal law and the policies purportedly underlying some state regulatory schemes, the scope of federal law is not curtailed.
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Title Annotation:Significant decisions in labor cases; right to sue employers for State compensated industrial accidents
Author:Hukill, Craig
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Jul 1, 1990
Previous Article:Bankrupt employers.
Next Article:Reservists' job rights.

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