Alexander v. Bozeman Motors, Inc., d/b/a Bozeman Ford, No. DA 09-0550 (Mont. 06/09/10).
Ruling: The Montana Supreme Court ruled that Montana's exclusive remedy provision barred a negligence suit brought by an injured employee. A suit filed by a subsequently injured employee was not barred because the employer was aware of the condition.
What it means: Generally, the Workers' Compensation Act provides the exclusive remedy for an employee injured in the scope of his employment. However, an employee injured by an intentional and deliberate act by the employer may sue the employer. If an employer was aware of a condition that previously caused injury to an employee, it could be held liable for a subsequent employee's injuries due to the same condition.
Summary: A salesman worked for the employer selling recreational vehicles. His office was in a small prefabricated building, and the employer bought a propane gas stove to heat it. The salesman claimed the stove leaked propane and caused a buildup of carbon monoxide. He stated that the office smelled. The salesman became ill and lost consciousness in the office. He did not return to work after losing consciousness. A new employee began working in the office. The employer did not disclose the salesman's injury to the new employee or investigate his injuries. The new employee also felt sick and lost consciousness in the office. The new employee arranged for an inspection of the office which uncovered that the stove was leaking. Both employees sued the employer for negligence.
The Montana Supreme Court ruled that the salesman's claim was barred by Montana's exclusivity provision, but the new employee's claim was not barred because the employer had actual knowledge of the salesman's injury.
Both employees argued that the employer deliberately caused them harm while working in the office. The court noted that the injured employee must prove that the employer deliberately and intentionally caused an "intentional injury" to the employee. Additionally, the court stated that the employer must have "actual knowledge" of the injury's certainty. With regard to the new employee, the court stated that the employer had actual knowledge of the harm posed by the stove because it was aware of the salesman's injury.
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September 9, 2010
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