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Can I Get Work Comp Benefits If Assaulted At Work?

Workplace Accident & InjuryRecently, someone asked us the following question:

If you get attacked while working, does workers comp pay?

That’s a good question. It is within our law firm’s area of personal injury. And, we have actually handled past work comp cases involving this issue. What’s the answer? The answer is a qualified yes. C’mon, you know tough legal issues rarely have absolute answers. The answer is, yes, an attack CAN be a work comp case. But, the details are very important.

A recent 2018 Alabama case gives us a good example of a workplace assault and work comp benefits. The case is Lawler & Cole CPAs, LLC v. Cole. The facts are really unusual. In fact, the case made the annual “Top 10 Bizarre Workers’ Comp Cases” list published by a noted nationwide work comp writer.

What are the facts? I’ll give a very short version here. In 2007 or 2008, a local businessman named Jimmy Cooper underwent a sales-tax audit. At some point in that process, Cooper became dissatisfied with his accountants. He fired them, picked up his paperwork and went elsewhere.

In 2016 (years later), Cooper went to the office of a local attorney. Cooper held that attorney at gunpoint while trying to coerce his former business partner to meet. When the business partner arrived at the lawyer’s office, Cooper jumped from a hiding place and shot him. Cooper then tried to shoot the lawyer. From there, Cooper went to his current accountant’s office to shoot him but could not access the building.

Then, Cooper went to his former accountant’s office. I’m talking the accountants he fired about 8 years earlier. Upon arrival, he gave a false name to the receptionist and asked to see his former accountant. Cooper then shot his former accountant three times, killing her. Her surviving spouse sued seeking benefits under the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act. That brings us to the question of whether or not comp benefits are available for an assault in the workplace.

Was the shooting a compensable work comp claim? In Alabama, does work comp provide benefits for workplace assaults? It’s a good question. Here is a quote from the court in the shooting case:

Generally speaking, for the intentional assault upon an employee to be considered an accident arising out of the employment, ‘the rational mind must be able to trace the resultant [death or injury] to a proximate cause set in motion by the employment, and not by some other agency.’

That’s a long-winded response. Here’s the issue in these cases — Was the assault purely personal? Or, did it have some relationship to the employment? In the Alabama case involving the murdered accountant, her family was entitled to work comp. The shooting did have a connection (at least partially) to her work.

I’ve handled comp claims arising out of workplace assaults in the past. They may not be as strange as a former client returning years later. Yet, they are often unusual and emotional cases. Even when connected to work, an assault is still highly personal. Quite often, success in the claim rises or falls on specific facts related to the assault. If you have suffered a serious personal injury from an assault at work in Alabama, you probably should consult legal counsel before giving detailed statements to your employer or its insurance carrier. Insurance companies are skilled in finding ways to deny valid claims.

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At the Blackwell Law Firm, we have tried workers’ compensation cases in courtrooms across Alabama. We understand the issues in these case. If you have questions, let us know. We are happy to answer questions. Consultations are always free and confidential.