Typically if you are injured at work, you should be able to collect workers’ compensation insurance. However, because workers’ compensation is considered an “exclusive remedy,” your employer is immune from further litigation related to that injury – even if the company was negligent. There are a few exceptions, but they are very narrow.
What’s more, this immunity extends also to co-workers who are acting in the course and scope of employment. That means even if your co-worker does something that is extremely careless and you wind up hurt, you still can’t sue them. But (there’s always a “but”) there could be an exception if your co-worker was not acting in the course and scope of employment. This would apply to an extremely narrow set of circumstances, particularly if the plaintiff qualified for workers’ compensation. However, it is possible, as the recent Washington Supreme Court case of Entila v. Cook illustrates.
According to court records, defendant and plaintiff were both employees of the same company. One was heading into work, and one was leaving. The injury occurred as plaintiff was crossing the street on an access road belonging to the company, while defendant, operating his personal vehicle on that same road after finishing his shift. Defendant struck plaintiff with his vehicle, causing plaintiff to suffer serious personal injuries.
Soon after the incident, plaintiff filed a claim to collect workers’ compensation benefits, which includes coverage of medical bills and a portion of lost wages. He was awarded benefits, which meant the exclusive remedy provision was in place, and he was not allowed to take further legal action against his employer (this provision exists in Washington as well as Florida).
However, he then filed an injury lawsuit against his co-worker for damages, including pain and suffering – a loss that is not covered by workers’ compensation benefits. But defendant argued the exclusivity provisions of workers’ compensation law protected him from liability for this action.
Plaintiff sought a pre-trial ruling that would establish that the state’s workers’ compensation law would not prevent his lawsuit against his co-worker. Trial court denied this motion, at which time defendant sought a summary judgment, arguing he was immune from liability because there wasn’t any genuine issue of fact that he was acting in the course and scope of employment. The trial court granted this motion for summary judgment.
However, the appellate court reversed, finding defendant was not immune under state workers’ compensation law because he hadn’t established he was acting in both the course and scope of employment. To be acting in the course of employment means the worker is acting at his employer’s direction or in furtherance of the employer’s business – and this included going to-and-from work on the employer’s property. However, the state law also noted that the law said a third party could be liable for damages if he or she was “not in the same employ,” which he noted meant they were both acting in the course and scope of employment. The appeals court noted that while the first definition controlled the eligibility of workers’ compensation, it wasn’t intended to control third-party liability. The court noted that a worker’s eligibility for benefits did not necessarily dictate whether a co-worker could be liable. It mattered more whether the co-worker was acting in the course and scope of employment.
Therefore, the appellate court’s reversal was affirmed and the case remanded for trial.
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Entila v. Cook, Jan. 12, 2017, Washington Supreme Court
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Florida Supreme Court Rejects Medical Malpractice Arbitration Agreement, Jan. 16, 2017, Orlando Injury Attorney Blog