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Shooting Leads to Workers’ Compensation Dispute: Court Says …


May 20, 2024

 

An employee who was denied workers’ compensation benefits after being shot by a co-worker can proceed with a tort claim against his employer, a state appeals court in Florida has ruled.

 

This case involves Giovanni Bastien, who worked at a Pepsi packaging and distribution facility in Medley, Florida.

 

Bastien was shot by a co-worker who was “purportedly disgruntled over union activities,” the court’s decision says.

 

Argument escalates to shooting

 

A local news report gives more detail about the specific circumstances surrounding the shooting. It says that Bastien argued with co-worker Jimmy Lee Franklin at work about union issues before the two agreed to clock out of work and go find a place to fight. The news report adds that after the pair moved off site, the argument escalated and Franklin shot Bastien multiple times.

 

Bastien then drove back to work before being taken to the hospital, it says.

 

According to the court decision, Bastien told his manager while he recovered from his injuries in the hospital that he planned to file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits.

 

The employer fought the workers’ compensation claim, saying that Bastien was not entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits because his injuries did not occur within the course and scope of his employment.

 

Workers’ compensation benefits denied

The state’s division of workers’ compensation agreed with the employer. It denied Bastien’s claim entirely, noting that the shooting took place off the employer’s premises.

 

Bastien responded to that development by filing a tort suit against the employer. The employer said that claim could not proceed because it was entitled to workers’ compensation immunity.

 

In other words, the employer argued that workers’ compensation was the only avenue of relief available to Bastien – even though it had just argued that he was not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.

 

A trial court said the employer could not raise the immunity defense, and the employer filed an appeal.

 

Appeals court explains

The reviewing court explained that the state’s workers’ compensation is set up to ensure the quick and efficient delivery of disability and medical benefits to injured workers, and that it operates without regard to fault. Under the workers’ compensation system, it added, employees generally give up the right to sue for negligence in exchange for the rapid recovery of benefits.

 

The rule that workers’ compensation benefits are an injured employee’s exclusive remedy has exceptions. One of those exceptions applies when an employer asserts that an employee’s injury did not occur within the course and scope of their employment.

 

You can’t have it both ways

That is exactly what happened here. The employer opposed the workers’ compensation claim on the basis that Bastien’s injuries did not occur within the course and scope of his employment. Then, it turned around and argued in the tort action that workers’ compensation was Bastien’s exclusive remedy.

 

The court also noted that under state workers’ compensation law, employers cannot assert workers’ compensation exclusivity in cases involving intentional torts. The court’s decision does not explicitly address that exclusion’s application to Bastien’s injury.

 

The court ruled that the employer could not assert the immunity defense.

Though the employer may have celebrated what looked like a win when it avoided the claim for workers’ compensation benefits, now it must face the challenge of defending and defeating what could ultimately become a much more expensive claim against it.

 

OSHA offers guidance

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has developed a number of resources that are designed to help employers keep violence out of their workplace.

 

OSHA says factors that affect the risk of workplace violence include:

    whether money is exchanged with the public

    whether alcohol is served where the work is performed

    time of day

    location of work.

 

As far as occupations that are more prone to involve violence, OSHA identifies the following:

 

    Workers who exchange money with the public

    Delivery drivers

    Healthcare professionals

    Public service workers

    Customer service agents

    Law enforcement personnel

    People who work alone or in small groups.

 

OSHA recommends establishing a zero-tolerance workplace violence policy and advises employers to conduct workplace assessments that will identify ways to reduce the likelihood of a violent incident.

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