Workplace assaults are common for many professions. Think about nurses and the large number of difficult encounters they face with patients and families. Think about restaurant workers and other service industry professionals who interact with customers on a daily basis. Think about law enforcement officers and other first responders who deal with the public during the worse possible events. Just this morning, I read a headline on al.com about a FedEx driver who was shot by another driver in a road rage incident in Birmingham. Workplace assaults are not unusual. Many professions are impacted.
My prior article discusses assaults by someone outside your employer. You know — Customers. Guests. Patients. Visitors. Drivers around you.
When I wrote my prior article, our communities were facing a lot of frustration over multiple issues, including the coronavirus, social injustices and an election. The rate of workplace assaults last year rose tremendously. It’s a product of the times in which we live.
When I wrote my prior article, we were busy helping several clients injured at work from an assault. These included a maintenance worker attacked while repairing a vacant Huntsville apartment — a case we settled just before trial. So, the topic was fresh for me.
Today, I want to discuss a different kind of workplace assault. What if the person who commits the assault is actually one of your co-workers? What if you are assaulted at work by someone who actually works with you? Nobody expects to be attacked by a fellow employee. But, it does happen. Just a couple years ago, a Taco Bell employee shot and killed a co-worker in the parking lot of their south Huntsville restaurant. When a co-worker attacks, the violence is often disabling or fatal. What are the rules in co-worker assault cases?
The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals recently addressed just such a situation. That case involved an assault injury that happened right here in Huntsville. You can read the case here: Kevin Patrick v. Mako Lawn Care, Inc..
What happened? It all started when two employees took a lawn mower designated for another employee. That employee then retaliated by taking one of their lawn mowers. From this point, things progressed as they often do! The workers confronted each other. According to the evidence, the confrontation was even recorded on video. It showed the employee Patrick initiating the first contact by pushing a co-worker named Landon. Landon then hit Patrick in the head causing his injury. Patrick later filed a work comp claim against his employer. So, the guy who started the fight ended up hurt and filed the comp claim!
The problem in this case is that the injured worker was also the initial attacker or aggressor. A person injured innocently (or simply defending himself) is very different than a person who started the fight.
In past years, I’ve successfully helped several workers who were the innocent victims of a co-worker assault. In one of those cases, my client was viciously attacked by a co-worker mechanic without warning. Afterwards, the employer lied about the altercation and hid evidence. The employer tried to argue my client was a particpant in the fight. Fortunately, we found co-workers who were happy to share the truth. Through some hard work, we also obtained the employer’s internal investigation which revealed the truth — Our client was the innocent victim. We went to court and won the case for our client.
Let’s start with the basics. Can an employee obtain work comp benefits if injured by a co-worker? Then, we will address the situation where the injured employee was the aggressor who started the fight.
Here are the basics. A person injured by a co-employee assault can, in many cases, get work comp benefits. No benefits are available if the assault is purely personal, like ill will, hatred or anger. Benefits are available if the assault was set in motion by anything related to the employment. This is often a gray area. If you are hurt at work, the insurance company will try and argue the attack was purely personal. You better hire a lawyer who understands this law and will work hard to present the evidence.
Now, what about the situation where the injured employee started the fight? What about the situation where the injured employee was the aggressor? In all fairness, someone should not be allowed to start a fight and then make his employer pay for it. Generally, in Alabama, an active participant or aggressor in an altercation cannot recover benefits for injuries that arise from the altercation.
Sometimes the facts are clear. In those cases, it’s easy to tell who was the aggressor. It’s easy to connect the assault to something at work. In other cases, the facts are gray. You can bet the insurance company will fight hard to avoid paying benefits. If you suffer a disability due to a workplace assault, you need skilled advice from an attorney who understands this area of the law. You may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
From its office in Huntsville, the Blackwell Law Firm helps injured workers statewide. We have pursued and won workers’ compensation benefits for our injured clients in courtrooms across Alabama. If you have questions about a personal injury, let us know. We are happy to discuss your issues. All consultations are free and confidential.