Workplace Violence Lawsuits & Workers' Compensation Claims - How to Pursue Both
This article explains how victims of workplace violence can pursue justice via a workplace injury lawsuit and workers' compensation.
Victims of Crime in the Workplace - Exercising Full Civil Legal RightsWorkplace violence cases are some of the most complex types of work accident cases to handle. They commonly involve the interplay of multiple areas of law such as workers' compensation, work accidents and civil crime victims' rights. Many victims of workplace violence are often told they have limited civil legal options, when in fact, they do have viable legal cases. Workers' compensation claims resulting from workplace violence generally fall into three categories: 1. crimes connected to the employment (i.e., assault of a bar bouncer by a patron, robbery of gas station attendant), 2. crimes not connected to the employment (i.e., random gun violence), and 3. violence imported from an employee's personal life to the employment (i.e., domestic violence). As a general rule, workers injured due to crimes occuring in the workplace will be eligible for workers' compensation benefits.
Getting Over the Workers' Compensation Exclusivity Bar to Workplace Violence Claims Against the EmployerCivil cases involving workplace crimes are often fraught with pitfalls, some more real than others. The workers' compensation exclusivity principle for instance often scares plaintiff attorneys away from examining the employer's liability, when there are multiple exceptions to the exclusivity bar which may allow the employee to bring a tort claim against the employer. Every state in the country has workers' compensation laws, although of course, they vary. In general, the workers' compensation scheme operates so an employee can recover for a work accident regardless of who is at fault, although what an employee can recover tends to be limited (i.e., employees generally cannot recover pain and suffering damages). Then, of course, there is the principle of exclusivity of workers' compensation benefits - in exchange for the right to obtain workers' compensation benefits, the employee gives up the right to sue the employer in tort. See e.g., California Labor Code ? 3601; Johns-Manville Products Corp. v. Superior Court, 27 Cal.3d 465 (Cal. 1980); New York Workers' Compensation Law Section 11; New Jersey Statutes Section 34:15-8; 77 Pennsylvania Statutes Section 481 (a). The workers' compensation exclusivity bar usually operates by statute and extends to claims based on respondeat superior/negligence of an employee, negligent hiring/retention of an employee, negligent supervision of an employee, etc. In exchange for insulation from liability, an employer provides workers' compensation benefits to employees, and therefore employees are protected from losing valued medical and wage loss/disability benefits.
The Workers' Compensation Exclusivity Bar in Effect - Course and Scope of EmploymentGenerally, the exclusivity principle will bar an employee from bringing a tort claim against the employer where the crime occurred within the course and scope of employment. There must be some connection between the activity and the employment. For example, in Maxwell v. Hospital Authority, a 1991 Georgia appellate court case, the court held that the workers' compensation exclusivity principle barred a hospital employee's claim against her employer for a robbery and rape that occurred in an employer provided parking lot. The court held that workers' compensation exclusivity applied because the crime occurred within the course and scope of employment - walking to a car in an employee parking lot. See also Baptist Memorial Hospital v. Gosa, a 1996 Alabama Supreme Court case, which similarly held that workers' compensation exclusivity barred the employee's tort claim against the employer. That case involved a similar set of facts, criminal conduct in an employee parking lot. Notwithstanding these cases, the circumstances of every workplace violence case must be analyzed against the major exceptions to the workers' compensation exclusivity principle.
Exceptions to Workers' Compensation ExclusivityThere are several well-established exceptions to the workers' compensation exclusivity principle, including intentional torts, personal nature, ratification of intentional conduct of employee, dual capacity, failure to insure, etc. In California, for instance, certain types of intentional employer conduct may subject the employer to liability beyond workers' compensation - intentional conduct which cannot be considered to be a normal risk of employment or is contrary to fundamental public policy. For example, in Fermino v. Fedco (1994 California Supreme Court), the court held that workers' compensation exclusivity did not prevent an employee from filing a claim against her employer for false imprisonment. In that case, the employer (department store) engaged in conduct of a questionable relationship to employment. Store management and security personnel at the department store held the employee in a room for over an hour, refused to allow her to leave, and accused her of theft. Most lawyers commonly misunderstand and therefore misapply the exceptions to the workers' compensation exclusivity principle. Therefore, it is crucial to review applicable case law and have a clear understanding of the facts in order to accurately advise a client (victim of workplace violence) on the full extent of their legal rights.