OOIDA has continued
its ongoing legal efforts against New Prime Inc. by filing another
suit, this time in Missouri Circuit Court.
On Jan. 2,
2003, OOIDA filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of individual
owner-operators against the Springfield, MO, motor carrier in Green
County, MO, Circuit Court. Also named as defendants in the case
are Prime officers and directors Robert Lowe, Lawana Lowe and Vera
Lowe. The complaint alleges unlawful workers’ compensation practices
and seeks the return of insurance premiums paid for the procurement
of workers’ compensation insurance where such premiums, under Missouri
law, must be paid by Prime.
in the action is OOIDA member Jeffrey Warta, who, from 1996 until
April 2000, was leased to Prime under the terms of a service contract.
Warta also had a lease‑purchase agreement under which he leased
his equipment from a Prime-related corporation, Success Leasing.
Under the terms of the lease-purchase agreement, Warta obtained
no ownership interest in the vehicle.
the complaint, Prime deducted weekly premiums from Warta’s compensation
purportedly to pay premiums for workers’ compensation insurance.
After sustaining severe injuries in April 2002 while performing
services for Prime, Warta applied for workers’ compensation benefits
before the Missouri Labor and Industrial Relations Commission. The
complaint alleges that Prime intervened in Warta’s workers’ compensation
proceeding as Warta’s employer and was thereby able to direct Warta’s
medical treatment and obtain other benefits pursuant to Missouri’s
workers’ compensation law.
law, an employee for purposes of workers’ compensation includes
owner-operators who lease their vehicles under a lease-purchase
agreement but who have no ownership interest in the truck. At the
same time, Missouri’s workers’ compensation law prohibits an employer
from charging an employee for workers’ compensation coverage.
Prime is alleged
to have engaged in a scheme by which it deducted workers’ compensation
premiums from Warta and other similarly situated drivers in violation
of Missouri law and, at the same time, considered itself the employer
of Warta and other drivers when a workers’ compensation claim was
alleges Prime and its three named officers and directors are liable
to Warta and other members of the class for unjust enrichment and
OOIDA and the
plaintiffs in the case are seeking reimbursement for all Prime owner-operators
of workers’ compensation premiums unlawfully deducted from owner-operator
compensation, as well as a permanent injunction preventing Prime
from engaging in such acts in the future. The complaint also seeks
punitive damages against Prime and the Lowes.
The new lawsuit
does not affect another lawsuit currently being heard in U.S. District
Court, which was brought by OOIDA and two association members against
Prime under the federal truth-in-leasing regulations. That action
deals with alleged violations of federal law, while this new action
is brought solely under Missouri state law.