Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Monday, August 05, 2002

Day to day violence, on whose nickel?

There seem to be an increasing number of cases that deal with an employer's responsibility when employees are injured on the job by the intentional acts of others, including fellow employees. Although Texas law is fairly clear, that an employee who claims such an injury but elects to receive workers compensation is barred from any other action against the employer, it is not so clear in other states. Medina v. Herrera, 927 S.W.2d 597 (Tex. 1996).

Most recently, the Mississippi intermediate court addressed a case with these allegations:

On or about the 10th day of October, 1997, Defendant Oye, in his office on the premises of Defendant Pioneer, Inc. wilfully assaulted and battered Plaintiff Robert Davis by lunging across his desk, grabbing the Plaintiff at his throat and slinging Plaintiff against a wall.

Plaintiff was the Manager of Information Systems and the 'flinger' was the Company Comptroller. Just as an aside, isn't it fairly ludicrous to say "on or about October 10th"? No matter how many of us have been frustrated with the IT department, surely it is still rare enough that one will remember precisely the date they were flung "against said wall." (Said with tongue in cheek.)

In any event, the Mississippi court held that even though the injured employee had received workers comp benefits, he could proceed with his suit against the employer. It may be the correct ruling under Mississippi precedent, but it seems indicative of a growing trend to hold employers liable for the intentional acts of others. There may be cases where a good argument can be made for that, although I think the whole area of employer responsibility for such conduct, the interactions of various theories of liability such as vice-principal, and the reach of the workers compensation exclusivity bar is ripe for review.

I did note that, although not writing the opinion, a law school classmate, Leslie Southwick was on the panel that heard the case.

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