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Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.

Kimzey v. Interpace Corp., 10 Kan. App. 2d 165, 694 P.2d 907 (1985).

This case addresses the following issue:

What is the dual capacity doctrine under Kansas law?

The workers’ compensation act is a compromise between Kansas employers and Kansas employees. Id. at 166. Employees get a no-fault system that is designed to move more quickly than a civil lawsuit. Id. Employers get a system of limited liability and freedom from civil lawsuits for injuries that are covered by the law—a principle known as exclusivity. Id. In this case, the court explored an exception to this rule, known as the dual capacity doctrine. Id. Applying this doctrine, the court determined that an employee can sue his employer for product liability when the employer has purchased the company responsible for manufacturing the defective product. Id. at 170.

Plaintiff worked for Defendant, and his duties largely included using a pyramid rolling machine. Id. at 165. The machine had been defectively manufactured by the Lock Joint Pipe Co. in approximately 1960. Id. In 1962, Lock Joint was merged into another corporation and that corporation was purchased by Defendant. Id. In April of 1980, the defect caused the machine to malfunction and crush Plaintiff’s leg. Id. Plaintiff received benefits, including medical treatment and off-work benefits pursuant to workers’ compensation. Id. at 166. Plaintiff then filed suit against his employer for the defectively manufactured machine. Id. Defendant argued that the exclusivity of workers’ compensation prevented the lawsuit. Id.

The court began by noting that exclusivity does not prevent an injured employee from suing a third party that is responsible for injuries also covered by workers’ compensation. Id. at 167. Thus, if Lock Joint still existed, Plaintiff would undisputedly be allowed to bring suit against that company. Id. Under the dual capacity doctrine, an employer that operates under “a second capacity that confers obligations independent of those imposed by employing” an injured worker, liability that would attach to a separate entity in that capacity can also attached to the employer. Id. at 167-68. Put more artfully, a suit that could be brought regardless of the employment relationship is not defeated just because the defendant happens to employ the plaintiff. Id. at 168.

Using the dual capacity doctrine, the court found that Defendant had assumed all liabilities of Joint Stock when it purchased the merged company years earlier. Id. at 169. This included the liability for defects in the machine. Id. Because this liability arose completely independent of the employment relationship, exclusivity could not shield Defendant from this wrong. Id.

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