BEFORE ROY NOBLE LEE, C.J.; ROBERTSON AND PITTMAN, JJ.
ROBERTSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:
Though rather easily within the coverage of the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Act, today's claimant - administratrix of the estate of a welder injured on a natural gas pipe laying project - proceeds in tort. Denying employment status, administratrix sues the pipe laying contractor for whom her deceased husband worked. Beyond that, she moves against the project owner, notwithstanding that de jure and de facto control of the pipe laying process had been lawfully vested in the contractor.
The Circuit Court summarily exonerated each defendant. As Administratrix offered no cognizable evidence that might be said to generate any genuine issue of material fact, we affirm.
Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Corporation ("Transco") is a Delaware corporation doing business in Mississippi. Transco purchases natural gas from fields in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi and transports this gas through an extensive interstate pipeline system to its customers in the Northeast.
Singley Construction Company ("Singley") is a Mississippi corporation located in Columbia, Mississippi. On April 2, 1982, in order to connect a newly producing well with its existing system, Transco contracted with Singley whereby Singley agreed to construct approximately 8.6 miles of underground pipeline in Jefferson Davis, Lamar and Marion Counties. The right-of-way had been procured by Transco. Soon thereafter Singley began work on the construction project.
James C. Magee, born December 13, 1923, was a journeyman welder. He began work for Singley on the Transco pipeline construction project on April 22, 1982 after a Transco employee had administered a "welding examination" to assess his skills. Singley paid Magee at the predetermined rate of $25.00/hour. As is the practice in the industry, Magee provided his own welding equipment while Singley provided the materials. During the construction of the pipeline, a Transco employee would
periodically inspect the quality of Singley's work, including that done by Magee.
Singley took control of the worksite, used its equipment to excavate a v-shaped trench, and began laying pipe therein. On June 2, 1982, Magee was working in a trench, lining up a section of ten-inch pipe suspended by a cable. The trench bank caved in, dislodging the pipe, which struck Magee and fractured his left leg in the area of his knee. He was treated at a local hospital and was released. He returned to the hospital two days later for surgical correction of the fracture. Fidelity and Guaranty Insurance Underwriters, Singley's workers compensation insurance carrier, provided coverage for Magee's medical costs.
On July 18, 1984, Magee commenced this civil action by filing his complaint in the Circuit Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County. Magee named Singley and Transco as defendants and charged that each was "guilty of negligence, which was the proximate cause . . . of the accident in question and the injuries sustained therein by plaintiff."
In answering the complaint, Singley advanced the defense that, since at the time the accident occurred Magee was engaged in its employ, his exclusive remedy as against Singley was via the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Act. Miss. Code Ann. 71-3-9 (1972).
Transco's answer argued, first, that Singley, as an independent contractor, had assumed responsibility for the safety of the workplace and its employees, by reason of which Transco could not be held liable for the negligent maintenance of the construction site. Second, Transco alleged that, because it had contractually compelled Singley to procure workers' compensation insurance, it was immune from suit - i.e. the "statutory employer" defense.
On December 6, 1984, James C. Magee died of a heart attack, a cause unrelated to the present action, and his widow as administratrix was substituted ...