Work is a dangerous place for many in South Florida, and there are numerous opportunities to get hurt, depending on the field. Falls are typically the most common, but motor vehicles accidents are a significant source of workers’ compensation claims too. Workers’ compensation benefits are typically the only source of money one can get from an employer for a work-related injury. The good news is employees don’t have to prove the company was negligent, but they are usually only entitled to coverage of medical bills and a portion of lost wages. Injuries caused by co-workers – even negligent co-workers – usually fall under this exclusive remedy umbrella.
However, if a worker is injured by a co-worker who was not acting in the course and scope of employment, then the injured worker may be able to pursue a claim directly against that co-worker.
This was the situation in Entila v. Cook, recently weighed by the Washington Supreme Court. Although the ruling doesn’t have a direct bearing on cases in Florida, it’s known that state high courts will often look to the rulings set by other state supreme courts in deciding similar cases.
In Entila, the question involved the scope of tort immunity provisions extended to a co-worker for a third-party tort action against another employee when the accident occurred after working hours, but where the injured plaintiff already qualified for workers’ compensation benefits. The trial court dismissed plaintiff’s claim on summary judgment, finding the exclusive remedy provision applied and that because plaintiff had already been awarded workers’ compensation, he couldn’t sue his co-worker too.
However, the appellate court reversed and the state supreme court affirmed that reversal.
Plaintiff and defendant were both employees of an airline company. One morning around 6:30 a.m., defendant finished work and walked to his vehicle in the employee parking lot. He was driving his personal vehicle out of the lot and onto an access road, which is located on company property and maintained by the company. As plaintiff walked across that access road, defendant struck him with his vehicle, causing injury. Plaintiff received workers’ compensation benefits, but then also sued his co-worker.
Plaintiff argued the workers’ compensation statutes shouldn’t prevent him from suing his co-worker for personal injury because while plaintiff may have been acting in the course and scope of employment when he was injured, his co-worker was not.
Although trial court dismissed the claim, the appellate court ruled the defendant was not immune under workers’ compensation laws because he failed to establish he was acting in the course and scope of employment. Defendant argued that because he was going to and from work on the job site, he was still entitled to immunity. Plaintiff, however, argued that for immunity to exist, defendant would have to show he was performing work for the company at the time of the injury.
The appeals court looked at whether the defendant employee was acting in the direction and furtherance of his employer, and ruled he was not.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Entila v. Cook, Jan. 12, 2017, Washington State Supreme Court
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Legislators Seek to Toughen Penalties for Distracted Drivers, Jan. 17, 2017, Fort Lauderdale Injury Lawyer Blog