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Three important Missouri co-employee cases decided today

Co-employee liability for workplace injuries in Missouri has been an unsettled issue for several years.  The Supreme Court of Missouri issued three opinions that seem to resolve this issue. These opinions reinforced that a co-employee can only be liable for breach of a duty unrelated to employment or a breach of the employer’s duty to provide a safe workplace that was not reasonably foreseeable to the employer. These are decisions that affect many pending cases.

In MICHAEL E. CONNER v. DALE OGLETREE AND SCOTT KIDWELL and RUSSELL EVANS v. RON WILSON AND MONTE BARRETT, both cases dealt with a common law negligence claim against co-employees for an injury sustained on the job. In both cases, the court ruled in favor of the co-employees, determining that the plaintiffs failed to allege the co-employees breached a duty separate and distinct from an employer’s duty to provide a reasonably safe workplace.

In MATTHEW FOGERTY v. RICK ARMSTRONG AND LARRY MEYER, Fogerty filed a lawsuit against Meyer after sustaining an injury installing a fountain. The court determined Meyer was negligent in deciding how to install the fountain and, specifically, in the way he decided to use a front loader to move stones. It was also determined that he chose to use the front loader in a manner that put Fogerty in harm’s way. The Company was determined to have failed to provide a safe workplace. Meyer’s negligence was a breach of Employer’s nondelegable duty to provide a safe workplace, not a breach of some duty “separate and distinct” from Employer’s duty. Under Parr and Peters, therefore, the trial court properly granted summary judgment in Meyer’s favor.

FELECIA Y. McCOMB  v. GREGORY NORFUS and DAVID CHEESE dealt with the application of two recent opinions from the Court concerning common law liability for co-employees: Peters v. Wady Industries, Inc., 489 S.W.3d 784 (Mo. banc 2016), and Parr v. Breeden, 489 S.W.3d 774 (Mo. banc 2016) Because Appellant failed to establish Co-employees owed McComb a duty separate and distinct from his employer’s nondelegable duty to provide a safe workplace, the court ruled in accordance with a previous trial that the suit was barred by the exclusivity provision in Missouri’s workers’ compensation statutes.

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