Housekeeper's workplace assault is within realm of workers' comp
Case name: Bernal v. Rubio, No. 106,921 (Kan. Ct. App. 10/05/12, unpublished).
Ruling: In an unpublished decision, the Kansas Court of Appeals held that a housekeeper's suit against a motel and coworker was barred because it was within the exclusive remedy of workers' compensation.
What it means: In Kansas, a worker assaulted on the job by a coworker has a valid workers' compensation claim unless the attack grew out of a purely personal dispute.
Summary: A housekeeper for a motel was told by a coworker to leave the workplace and go home during her shift. The housekeeper refused, and the coworker grabbed her hand and choked her. Other employees interceded. The housekeeper and coworker did not know each other outside of work and had no personal grudges or animosity. The incident took place while both employees were on the clock. The coworker did not have any supervisory authority over the housekeeper. The coworker was "loud and vulgar" at work and previously pushed a cart in the motel parking lot that struck the housekeeper. The motel manager terminated the housekeeper, stating that she had problems with other employees. The housekeeper sued the coworker and the motel. The Kansas Court of Appeals found the suit was barred because the housekeeper's claims were within the exclusive remedy of workers' compensation.
The court explained that the case was within the scope of workers' compensation. The housekeeper and coworker were at work and generally were performing their duties at the time of the assault. Although the coworker was not carrying out a specific order from a manager in telling the housekeeper to leave work, he was acting generally within his employment. The fact that the coworker's action was deliberate did not bring the claim outside of workers' compensation. The record did not suggest that the coworker was prompted to strike the housekeeper as the result of a personal dispute. The court concluded that the housekeeper could not bring suit against the coworker and motel to recover damages.
The court also pointed out that the housekeeper did not present evidence that the motel or its managers knew that the coworker possessed characteristics that made him a threat to physically injure her or another employee before the assault.
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December 10, 2012
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