Lack of hostile intent by coworker in snake incident blocks suit
Case name: Jones v. Dougherty, No. 2010-CA-001985-MR (Ky. Ct. App. 12/14/12).
Ruling: The Kentucky Court of Appeals held that workers' compensation held the exclusive remedy for a teacher's injuries.
What it means: In Kentucky, a court may consider the intent of a coworker when determining whether the coworker's actions constituted willful and unprovoked physical aggression.
Summary: A teacher for a high school was in her office in the administrative suite when an assistant principal entered her office while holding a snake. The teacher was afraid of snakes, but she had not communicated that fear to anyone. The teacher looked up, saw the snake, and jumped up from her seat and ran into the concrete wall. The assistant principal explained that she was showing personnel the snake that a student's mother brought to the school for a science class. The teacher claimed that as a result of the incident she suffered injuries to her knees and heart and post-traumatic stress syndrome. The teacher sued the assistant principal, claiming that she "intentionally and maliciously" carried the snake into her office, causing injuries. The Kentucky Court of Appeals held that workers' compensation held the exclusive remedy for the teacher's injuries and dismissed the suit.
The exclusive remedy provisions of workers' compensation do not apply when an injury was "proximately caused by the willful and unprovoked physical aggression" of a coworker. The teacher argued that the assistant principal's actions amounted to such aggression. The court disagreed, pointing out that the teacher did not offer evidence that the assistant principal's actions were so far removed from those which would ordinarily be anticipated by the school as to remove her from the course of employment.
The court also found that the teacher failed to establish that the assistant principal acted with aggression or hostility toward her. The assistant principal took the snake into her office but did not know that she was afraid of snakes. There was no evidence that the assistant principal threatened to touch the teacher with the snake or that she pushed or thrust the snake toward her.
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March 18, 2013
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