The Labor and Industrial Relations Commission (LIRC) continues to deny workers’ compensation whenever it finds an opportunity. The most recent case involves a problematic application of the so-called “aggressor defense” to injuries caused by workplace fights.
Employee Hurt in Fight, Claims Workers’ Compensation
The case is Ford v. Associated Electric Cooperative, Inc.
Back in June, 2015, two workers in Missouri – Mr. Ford and Mr. Rhoads – got in a fight over who got to use a company truck. Both workers agreed that Ford was in the passenger seat when they started arguing, and that Rhoads got out of the driver’s seat and walked around the vehicle. They disagreed about what happened next, though.
Ford said that Rhoads started beating him for arguing. Rhoads, on the other hand, said that Ford got out of the truck as well, grabbed Rhoads’ shirt collar, and started pulling him. Rhoads claimed that he acted in self-defense and caused Ford’s injuries.
After the fight, Mr. Ford filed a claim for workers’ compensation. The administrative law judge denied the claim and the LIRC heard the appeal.
Missouri’s Aggressor Defense for Workers’ Compensation Claims
Missouri Statute 287.120(1) holds employers liable to furnish workers’ compensation coverage for anyone injured in an accident that arises out of the employment. An “accident” includes injuries “caused by the unprovoked violence or assault against the employee by any person.”
Because an accident specifically includes unprovoked violence, though, Missouri courts have decided that, by implication, it does not include provoked violence. This is the aggressor defense. Workers who provoke violence or were the original aggressor in a fight cannot claim workers’ compensation for any injuries they sustain in the fight they started.
However, according to the Missouri Court of Appeals in Van Black v. Trio Masonry, Inc., the original provocation cannot be words, alone.
The LIRC’s Shoddy Application of the Aggressor Defense
The LIRC applied the aggressor defense to the Ford case and denied him workers’ compensation coverage, ruling that he started the fight.
The problem is that Ford’s role in the argument, alone, could not amount to provocation under the aggressor defense. Words are not aggression under the doctrine.
The only way for the LIRC to reach the aggressor defense is if it believed Rhoads’ story about the fight, where Ford grabbed Rhoads’ shirt and started the physical altercation. But there is a serious problem, here: Rhoads’ deposition came after Ford’s. Ford had already presented his side of the fight before Rhoads claimed that he had acted in self-defense.
The LIRC’s only reason for siding with Rhoads’ version of the fight is that Ford did not rebut this claim, making it an “uncontested fact” that Ford “was the aggressor.”
St. Joseph Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office
Decisions like these make it abundantly clear that the LIRC will go to great lengths to deny workers’ compensation coverage. Overcoming this obstacle can take the help of a personal injury and workers’ compensation lawyer.