A retail store manager hired me to represent her for injuries. She had been the first person to the store that morning. It was still dark. She entered the store and made her way to the light switch.
Unbeknownst to her, the hired cleaning company had worked late and had just left the premises. The newly waxed floor was still wet. My client couldn’t see the floor because it was between the door and the light switch.
She fell, in the dark, on the slippery floor. Her fall was so severe that she ruptured two discs. Because the cleaning company was contracted by the store, we made a claim for her worker’s compensation benefits, as well as a 3rd party claim against the cleaning company.
The Virginia Supreme Court ultimately ruled that my client’s sole claim was for a job injury under workers compensation. The cleaning company; while not employees of the store, was part of the “common enterprise” of the store. Thus, no third party personal injury claim.
If you are a business, then CNBC says that you want to be in Virginia. For 2011, Virginia was picked as being ranked number 1, as the top state for business.
Last year,Virgina was number 2. That’s got to be good because no one takes one of those big foam hands to football games, with two fingers sticking up.
CNBC cites 10 categories that it considers, in arriving at it’s pronouncement for Best State for Business. Things like quality of life and technology; Access to capital and a workforce help make businesses successful.
Two other important items of the ten include “business friendly” and “Cost of doing business”. Those can be broadly construed.
In most states, my client’s story above would have meant that the expense of her injuries would have been paid by the cleaning company. Her employer’s insurance company would have even been reimbursed.
Instead, her recovery under workers compensation was limited; and the true responsible party was not “hit” with the business expense of paying for creating that dangerous condition, without warning. My client received very little for her injuries under workers compensation, because of the laws in Virginia.
What is a cost of doing business. Well, if you do something that is reckless as a business, like hiring a driver without a license or someone who regularly does drugs, then you might be responsible for punishment damages.
In many states, reckless and willful conduct is punishable by money damages, according to what will truly punish that business. Usually, something related to assets and profits are introduced to the jury, to determine what is real punishment, and to send a message.
In Virginia, there is a limit on such punishment damages. Assets and ability to pay are not part of the equation in determining punishment/punitive damages. Under Virginia Code 8.01-38.1, the maximum punishment is 350K. If a company is doing a billion in profit, you aren’t punishing them by a verdict or payment of 350K.
As part of the “10” though, this is called “Cost of doing business”. A business can hire drunk drivers or multiple convicted felons who have previously caused injury by the same conduct, and the punishment damages are still only 350K.
I think it’s great that Virginia is number one in business. Conversely, the basis for being number one could have adverse effects on the citizens. It might not simply mean we have more jobs or economic prosperity if we are rewarding bad actors in business.