In the workplace, situations arise when a worker may assault another co-worker causing personal injuries, even death. In this situation, it is not always clearly apparent whether a workers’ compensation claim or personal injury lawsuit is the most appropriate and effective mechanism to recover damages for medical expenses, lost wages, and other losses. For 110 years, our attorneys, past and present, have helped countless Pennsylvanians file worker’s compensation claims and personal injury lawsuits to recover benefits and money damages for injuries.
A worker assaulted by a co-worker, customer, or other third-party may sue this individual in a Pennsylvania civil court for any personal injuries sustained as a result of the intentional tort of assault. The assault victim may recover all economic and non-economic damages available in a personal injury cause of action including medical expenses and lost wages.
In determining whether an allegedly intentional tort gives rise to a cause of action against a co-worker under § 205 of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, Pennsylvania courts examine whether the alleged “intentional wrong” is one that is not normally expected to be present in the workplace.
Thus, because an employee does not normally expect a physical assault or infliction of emotional distress on the job, these intentional torts are actionable. However, a truck driver who makes claims against a co-worker will have such claims barred because speeding, tailgating, and poor weather conditions were in the normal course of employment for a truck driver. Holdampf v. Fid. & Cas. Co., 793 F.Supp. 111, 114 (W.D. Pa.1992).
Because Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation statute contains a “personal animus” or “third-party attack” exception to the law’s provision that an employee’s exclusive remedy for work-related injuries or death is filing a claim for workers’ compensation, an employee may bring an action against an employer for negligence if assaulted in the workplace.
The personal animus exception is derived from the Act’s definition of “injury,” which states in 77 Pa.Stat. § 411(1): “The term ‘injury arising in the course of his employment,’ as used in this article, shall not include an injury caused by an act of a third person intended to injure the employe [sic] because of reasons personal to him, and not directed against him as an employe [sic] or because of his employment …”
In Kohler v. McCrory Stores, 532 Pa. 130, 137, 615 A.2d 27, 30 (1992), The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, applying the “personal animus/third party attack” exception, stated that the exclusivity provision of the Act “does not preclude damage recoveries by an employee, based upon employer negligence in maintaining a safe workplace, if such negligence is associated with injuries inflicted by a co-worker for purely personal reasons.”
The Court explained: “The act excludes from its coverage attacks upon an employee whether or not they occur while he is pursuing his employer’s business and whether or not they are caused by the condition of the employer’s premises or by the operation of his business or affairs thereon so long as the reasons for the attack are purely personal to the assailant. In such a case, the plaintiff is permitted to pursue his common-law remedy.”
Therefore, a Court must determine whether an attack originated from “purely personal reasons to the assailant,” rather than from some work-related cause. Thus, an employee must assert that his injuries are not work-related because a co-worker for purely personal reasons injured him. The personal animus exception allows employees to overcome the nearly absolute immunity of an employer and assert negligence, discrimination, loss of consortium and other claims against an employer.
There is also an intentional tort exception to workers’ compensation claims. Under this theory, an injury during the employment relationship caused by an intentional act is not “accidental,” and thus falls outside the scope of workers’ compensation coverage. An employee must prove that the employer specifically intended to injure the employee. An employer’s knowledge of a condition that poses a threat of harm to an employee may be viewed as intentional when the employer allows the condition to continue.
In these situations, it is wise to contact an attorney experienced in filing workers’ compensation claims and litigating personal injury lawsuits. The attorneys, past and present, of Powell Law have represented victims of all types of accidents, including those in the workplace. If you or a loved one has suffered any type of workplace injury, contact Powell Law at call (570) 961-0777. The consultation is FREE and you don’t pay anything unless we win.