Case name: Pierce v. Foster Wheeler Constructors Inc., No. 2008 CA 0906 (La. Ct. App. 12/23/08).
The Louisiana Court of Appeal reversed summary judgment for the employer, finding the claimant produced enough evidence to show his coworkers' actions constituted an intentional tort. The employer may also be liable under a vicarious liability theory.
What it means: Under Louisiana law, an employer can be vicariously liable for the intentional acts of coworkers that cause injury to another employee. The employer's liability is exempted from the exclusivity provision of the workers' compensation law. In ascertaining liability, the court will consider whether the act was primarily rooted in the employment, was reasonably incidental to the performance of employment duties, and whether it occurred during working hours and on the employer's premises.
The claimant was injured when he fell from scaffolding at work after being startled by coworkers playing a prank on the ground below. The claimant argued that the employer was liable under a vicarious liability theory because the coworkers' acts of assembling and igniting a pipe bomb with the intention of scaring other workers fell outside the scope of their employment.
The Court of Appeal reasoned that the claimant did not have to prove that his coworkers specifically intended to frighten him, but that the coworkers knew startling or scaring other workers in the plant was substantially certain to follow from their actions. The court found the claimant presented sufficient evidence that the coworkers knew or should have known that other workers were in precarious positions on scaffolding beams, and knew or should have known that these employees would be startled by the explosion.
The court also reasoned that the vicarious liability question was not a matter that could be decided on summary judgment. It concluded there were factual issues as to whether the coworkers' actions were so closely connected in time, place, and causation to their employment that their actions presented a risk of harm attributable to the employer.
March 5, 2009
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