DOES WORKERS COMPENSATION COVER INTENTIONAL ATTACKS ON AN EMPLOYEE BY A CO-EMPLOYEE?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
Rajala v. Doresky, 233 Kan. 440, 661 P.2d 1251 (1983).
This case addresses the following issue:
Does workers compensation cover intentional attacks on an employee by a co-employee?
Workers compensation provides medical treatment and other benefits to an employee that is injured at work. Id. at 440. If an injury falls within the scope of work comp, the employee cannot file suit against her employer—work comp is the exclusive remedy. Id. The same is true for coworkers, who are also immune from lawsuits. Id. This case asked if this rule was true even when the coworker intentionally harmed the employee, rather than harmed the employee through carelessness. Id. Ultimately, the court found that work comp is the exclusive remedy, even when a coworker intentionally harms the employee. Id. at 442-43.
Plaintiff and Defendant were coworkers at a restaurant. Id. at 440. Defendant got angry with Plaintiff, and struck Plaintiff several times while at work. Id. Plaintiff suffered great injury and filed suit against Defendant. Id. Defendant argued that he was immune from being sued because Plaintiff’s injuries fell exclusively within work comp. Id.
Kansas’ work comp law offers immunity from suit to both employers and coworkers. Id. at 441. This is because an employee is offered benefits for medical treatment and other benefits as part of the compromise of work comp. Id. Employers receive limited and predictable liability, while employees get an easier and fasted means of recovery. Id.
Focusing on this compromise, Plaintiff argued that a coworker is not entitled to immunity from suit when the coworker intentionally attacks an employee. Id. This is beyond the compromise that work comp envisions, because there is no benefit to the injured employee when a violent coworker is held harmless. Id. After all, it is the employer—not the coworker—that is responsible for providing work comp benefits. Id.
The court found these arguments sound, but ultimately insufficient to overcome the plain language of the work comp law. Id. at 442. “When a statute is plain and unambiguous, the court must give effect to the intention of the legislature as expressed rather than determine what the law should or should not be.” Id. Thus, despite these strong arguments, the court was not willing to hold that an intentional act by a coworker could fall outside the clear language of the work comp act. Id. Thus, Plaintiff’s suit must be dismissed. Id.