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Work comp exclusive remedy for man injured by coworker's prank

A recent workers' compensation case before a California Court of Appeal explored the issue of whether workers' compensation is the exclusive remedy for an employee who suffered a serious work injury as a result of a coworker's horseplay/prank/joke.

In Garcia v. Department of Water and Power, a worker - employed by the Department of Water and Power (DWP) - was using a cane to move around after suffering a knee injury.

Wanting to practice moving without the aid of the cane, the worker left it at his desk one day while walking away for a short period of time.

When the worker attempted to use the cane at a later point, he fell forward and reinjured his knee. Upon closer inspection, he observed that his cane had been shortened.

Suspecting that he had fallen victim to a prank by one of three coworkers, the worker informed them that the action "wasn't funny."

After one of the coworkers admitted to the prank, the worker eventually filed a lawsuit against the coworkers (assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, etc.) and the DWP (hostile environment, failure to prevent harassment, negligent hiring, training, retention, supervision, etc.).

However, the coworkers and the DWP filed a demurrer (i.e., motion to dismiss) arguing that the worker's exclusive remedy for his work injuries was workers' compensation. The trial court sustained the demurrer and the worker filed an appeal.

Here, the appellate court found that all workers who suffer physical injuries while on the job - including those injuries caused by a coworker acting within the scope of their employment - may only seek redress through the workers' compensation system.

While the worker attempted to argue on appeal that the coworker who shortened his cane was not acting within the scope of employment, the Court of Appeal pointed out that his complaint repeatedly stated otherwise.

Furthermore, the worker also attempted to characterize the actions of the coworker who shorted his cane as a "willful and unprovoked act of aggression," thereby making the exclusive remedy provision of workers' compensation law inapplicable.

However, the court indicated that the actions of the coworker did not rise to a "willful and unprovoked act of aggression." Indeed, the injured worker's complaint repeatedly described the act as a prank and indicated that he thought the act to have been a prank. (After he fell, the worker said the act "wasn't funny").

Accordingly, the Court of Appeal affirmed the decision of the trial court.

Stay tuned for further developments in the area of workers' compensation defense law ...

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.

Related Resources:

Coworker's cane-shortening prank covered by workers' compensation (Risk & Insurance)

Garcia v. Department of Water and Power, et al., (California Court of Appeals, 2nd District)

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