A few weeks ago, we covered a workers’ compensation case where the Missouri Supreme Court narrowed co-worker liability. The negative effects of that decision on workplace safety cannot be understated.
Missouri Supreme Court Narrows Co-Worker Liability
The issue is fairly simple: What can workers do when they are hurt on the job by one of their coworkers?
For example, in the case that the Missouri Supreme Court handled, Brock v. Dunne, a supervisor told a worker to clean the rollers in a machine without turning it off. The supervisor even removed a safety guard to facilitate the cleaning, in violation of company rules and in spite of safety stickers on the machine. The worker's thumb got crushed in the rollers.
Missouri Statute 287.120.1 says that coworkers are immune from lawsuits unless the victim can show that:
- The coworker engaged in affirmative conduct that was at least negligent, and
- The conduct was done to purposefully and dangerously increase the risk of injury.
In Brock, the Missouri Supreme Court said that coworkers have to act in order to potentially hurt others. Coworkers are still immune from liability if their conduct, no matter how egregious, increases the risk of workplace injuries but was done in order to increase productivity.
The Repercussions from this Case Will Be Significant
The fallout from Brock is going to leave a lot of injured workers undercompensated for their workplace injuries.
Coworkers, especially managers and shift supervisors – like in Brock – are responsible for a huge portion of workplace accidents. Just like in Brock, they tell workers what to do. When those instructions put the worker in danger, like in Brock, coworkers are responsible for the victim’s injuries and should be held liable.
But the vast majority of these dangerous instructions are not done specifically to hurt the worker. Managers and supervisors are almost always going to be focused on increasing productivity.
The problem is that increasing productivity in the workplace frequently comes at the expense of worker safety. Brock provides legal protection to managers who shrug at the dangers that come with increasing output by one percent.
Not only is this disturbing and immoral, it also leaves the victims behind.
Recall that victims of workplace accidents are entitled to medical care and a portion of their weekly wage while they recover. While this is not nothing, it is not all of the compensation that personal injury law says that victims deserve: It does not fully cover lost wages, it does not cover lost earning capacity, and it does not cover pain and suffering or any of the other losses the victim has sustained.
Under Brock and its interpretation of Missouri Statute 287.120.1, that compensation is now almost impossible to recover from coworkers or managers who were responsible for the victim’s injuries.
Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office Serve Workers in St. Joseph
The personal injury and workers’ compensation lawyers at the Smith Law Office serve hurt workers in St. Joseph, Kansas City, Springfield, and the rest of western Missouri. Contact them online or call their law office at (816) 875-9373.