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Proposed Law Would Prohibit Suits after Taking Workers’ Comp

On behalf of Brown & Crouppen, P.C. posted in Workers’ Compensation on Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A proposed new law would prohibit an employee injured on the job would be from suing negligent co-workers if the injured worker takes workers’ compensation benefits. The proposal is one of the so-called “Fix the Six,” a collection of legislative ideas put forth by a coalition of pro-business groups for the Missouri Legislature’s 2011 session.

According to a recent article in the Columbia Missourian, the proposed lawsuit prohibition is a reaction to a 2010 state Court of Appeals decision. In the decision, the Western District Court of Appeals held that Missouri’s workers’ compensation fund did not allow beneficiaries to sue their employer, but did not prevent them from suing any co-workers who may have negligently caused the injury.

The court ruling was in connection to an accident that occurred in the fall of 2007. Two employees of the City of Kansas City, a man and a woman, were cleaning a street using a high-pressure water hose. The female employee lost her grip on the hose and it swung back, striking her co-worker in the right eye. The accident blinded the man in the affected eye.

The man filed a claim with the state workers’ compensation program. Two months after reaching a settlement with the program, the man sued his co-worker for negligence. He sought compensation for pain and suffering and other damages that were not covered under his workers’ compensation settlement.

The case reached the Court of Appeals, which held that the workers’ compensation law prevents injured employees from suing employers after accepting benefits, but does not mention fellow employees. By implication, co-workers are allowed to sue each other even after collecting workers’ compensation benefits, the court wrote in its decision.

The business groups consider the lack of prohibition against suing co-workers a loophole in the workers’ compensation law. In the Missourian article, the president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce said that the Legislature needs to pass a law to overturn the Court of Appeals ruling and establish workers’ compensation benefits as an “exclusive remedy.”

Source: Columbia Missourian, “Missouri business coalition pushes for revision of workers’ compensation ruling,” Audrey Moon, January 20, 2011

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