MO Workers Comp update: co-employee liability rulings
By: Brad Young, Harris Dowell Fisher & Young L.C.
March 14, 2022- As reported by Missouri Lawyers Weekly, a pair of Court of Appeals decisions has confirmed that, following a recent Missouri Supreme Court ruling, successful lawsuits against co-workers and their employers for work-related injuries will be rare.
The Western District ruled March 1 that a man injured in the collapse of a utility trench cannot hold his employer responsible for putting him in danger (Bestgen v. Haile). The ruling came following a February 15 opinion by the Eastern District (Miller v. Bucy & Baker) that affirmed the dismissal of a wrongful death suit by the family of a man who was fatally knocked from the back of a trash truck.
The rulings appear to be the first appellate court opinions to apply the Supreme Court’s decision last year in Brock v. Dunne, which set a high bar for lawsuits brought by injured workers against co-employees whose negligence is alleged to have caused a work-related injury.
Generally, claims involving work-related injuries are handled exclusively through Missouri’s workers’ compensation system. However, a state law passed in 2012 makes an exception for co-employees who “engaged in an affirmative negligent act that purposefully and dangerously caused or increased the risk of injury.”
Interpreting that statute, the court’s majority in Brock said it requires “deliberate and deviant actions” by a co-worker who is intentionally increasing the risk of injury. “Absent more,” the court held, “a negligent act is, simply, negligence.”
Since 2007, plaintiff attorneys have threatened civil litigation, in addition to workers compensation claims in situations where claimants are injured on the job as a result of some action by a co-worker. Now, finally, this issue has been put to rest as there is no civil liability for such injuries except in the rare situation where an employee “deliberately” and through “deviant actions” injures another employee.
If you have any questions about this decision from the Missouri Court of Appeals, please feel free to call or email Brad Young, firstname.lastname@example.org, (636) 532-0300.