NEW ORLEANS – A Mississippi county and Tennessee hospital have lost an appeal seeking coverage from the county’s workers' compensation insurance after an accident involving an inmate.

The decision was handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

According to background information in the case, Timmy Vuncannon was earning $10 a day working in Tippah County work program when he was seriously injured in a forklift accident. The accident occurred while Vuncannon was helping law enforcement officials conduct a drug bust for the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, court documents say. He was then transported to the Regional Medical Center in Memphis, Tenn.

The Regional Medical Center originally claimed that the county was required to pay Vuncannon’s medical bills, totaling over $640,000. The county and the hospital eventually filed a third party complaint against the Mississippi Public Entities Workers’ Compensation Trust (MPE).

The county claimed that Vuncannon was a trustee for the jail and covered under the Mississippi Workers Compensation Act. MPE, however, claimed that the Act does not apply to inmates and a district court agreed, dismissing the suit.

Tippah County then appealed the dismissal.

In a per curiam opinion, the panel consisting of Judges Carl E. Stewart, Jerry Edwin Smith and Jacques L. Wiener, wrote that in order for the Act to apply Vuncannon would have to be considered an employee working under a “contract of hire.”

The Mississippi Supreme Court requires a contract of hire to have the consent of the parties, and the panel held that no such consent existed in this case because convicts in Mississippi are generally required to work.

The court affirmed the district court's dismissal the third party claims against MPE.

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