Letter not deliberate intent to harm; suicide is 'work-related traumatic event'
Case name: Meade v. Arnold, et al., No. 08-84 (E.D. Ky. 07/27/09).
The U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Kentucky granted the employer's motion for summary judgment and dismissed the worker's family's suit as barred by the exclusivity provision of the Workers' Compensation Act.
What it means:
In Kentucky, the timing of the employer's harmful conduct rather than the timing of the injury itself determines whether a worker's suicide arises out of and in the course of employment for purposes of applying the exclusive remedy of workers' compensation.
A correctional center secretary committed suicide after quitting her job. She received a demotion letter from her supervisor while she was hospitalized for diabetes. Her estate argued that the letter was an intentional act by the supervisor designed to harm her. The correctional center argued the suicide arose in the scope and course of the secretary's employment, and therefore, the estate's remedy was limited to workers' compensation. The District Court agreed that the estate's lawsuit was barred, finding that an injury in Kentucky is defined as "any work-related traumatic event" arising out of and in the course of employment. It found that the secretary's death and alleged emotional injuries arose from the supervisor's conduct, which occurred while the secretary was still employed at the correctional center. However, it pointed out that Kentucky looks at the supervisor's conduct, not the time of the injury, to determine whether the exclusive remedy applies.
The court rejected the estate's arguments that either of two exceptions applied. First, it found no deliberate intent by the employer to produce the secretary's death, as there was no evidence of intent to do her harm. The court pointed out that while the letter may have increased the risk of harm to the secretary, the delivery itself did not show a specific intent to harm. Second, the court found no evidence that the supervisor engaged in "willful and unprovoked physical aggression" resulting in the secretary's death.
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September 3, 2009
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