A significant number of workers’ compensation claims every year stem from motor vehicle accidents. That’s because many people drive as part of their job, and driving can be dangerous business, whether you’re a long-haul trucker or an office worker picking up coffee for the executives.
Workers’ compensation benefits are what is known as an exclusive remedy, which means workers cannot sue their employer – or usually their co-workers – for injuries sustained on-the-job. However, there can sometimes be claims made against third parties, including other drivers or vehicle manufacturers. In one recent court case, a unique set of circumstances arose when a worker was struck by a vehicle on his way to work. The incident happened on an access road owned and maintained by his employer. The person who hit him was a co-worker who was leaving his shift in his personal car.
Plaintiff collected workers’ compensation benefits. The question for the Washington Supreme Court was whether the exclusive remedy provision – and the immunity typically extended to co-workers – barred plaintiff from bringing a claim against his co-worker.
The state high court affirmed the appellate court’s departure from the trial court on this issue, finding that the claim should be allowed to proceed because the co-worker was not acting in the course and scope of employment, and thus was not afforded immunity he would otherwise have under exclusive remedy provisions of workers’ compensation law.
According to court records, plaintiff was struck on the employer’s access road about 6:30 p.m. Defendant had just finished his shift and walked to his vehicle in the employee parking lot. He drove his personal vehicle out of the parking lot and onto the access road. At the same time, plaintiff was crossing that access road. Defendant struck plaintiff, causing serious personal injuries.
Plaintiff sought and obtained workers’ compensation, and then filed a car accident lawsuit against defendant co-worker. Plaintiff sought a pre-trial ruling that the exclusive remedy provision of the state’s workers’ compensation law didn’t prevent him from bringing the claim. Trial court denied that motion. Defendant then moved for summary judgment, arguing there was no genuine issue of material fact to dispute that he was acting in the course and scope of employment at the time of the collision, and that his employer’s immunity extended to him and protected him from any personal liability.
The trial court granted defense motion and dismissed the personal injury litigation.
Plaintiff sought a direct review by the state supreme court, but was referred back to the appellate court. The appeals court reversed, finding defendant had not established as a genuine issue of material fact that he was not acting in the course and scope of his employment. To act in the course of employment means the employee is acting at the direction of his or her employer or in furtherance of the employer’s business. The state statute says this “shall include time spent going to and from the job site” so long as it immediately precedes or follows the actual time the worker was engaged in the work process and occurs in areas controlled by his or her employer, except the parking area.
Based on this definition as applied to the facts of the case, the court held the worker was not acting in the course and scope of employment. As plaintiff noted, defendant was not performing work at the time of the injury, and was not acting in the “scope of employment,” as he was not still performing duties for his employer.
Therefore, plaintiff will be allowed to proceed with his personal injury lawsuit against his co-worker.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Entila v. Cook, Jan. 12, 2017, Washington Supreme Court
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