• Louisiana Appellate Court Says Employer is Responsible for Failing to Protect Employee Off-Duty Threat of Violence by Coworker
  • June 29, 2017
  • An appellate court in Louisiana has ruled that Towana Carr may sue her employer, Sanderson Farms, Inc. for injuries sustained on the job stemming from a dispute that began outside of the workplace. In February 2016, Carr filed a claim of negligence against her employer for injuries sustained from an assault that occurred at work. She alleged that her coworker, Kevin Webb deliberately hit her with a pallet jack multiple times. She further claimed that Webb had threatened her with bodily harm while they were away from the workplace and despite reporting these threats to Sanderson Farms, they refused to take action because the threats had not been made at the workplace. At the trial court level, Sanderson Farms filed a motion arguing that under the Louisiana Workers' Compensation Act, Carr's claim was barred. The trial court agreed and granted a motion to dismiss the case, but Carr appealed the decision. The appeals court, relying on La. R.S. 23:1031(E), explained that "although negligence claims by an employee against her employer for injuries sustained on the job are typically barred by the exclusivity provision of the Workers' Compensation Act, the act does not cover injuries arising out of a 'dispute with another person or employee over matters unrelated to the injured employees employment.'" The court emphasized that Carr's claim for workers' compensation benefits was dismissed because of the finding that her injury was sustained because of a "non-work related dispute." The court also considered whether "a cause of action can be stated in negligence against an employer by an employee who was the subject of an intentional act committed by a co-employee, after the employee notified the employer of threats by the co-employee made away from the workplace." Because Carr had informed Sanderson Farms of Webb's bodily threats that were made off-site, the court found that "a duty may be owed by Sanderson Farms." However, the court said the employee would need to give the employer detailed information about the threats to establish the foreseeability of the injuring conduct in order for there to be a duty on the part of the employer. The First Circuit Court of Appeal sustained the trial court's initial decision to grant the motion against Carr but reversed the dismissal to allow Carr to plead additional facts. After Carr filed an amended petition, Sanderson Farms re-urged its exception of no cause of action, which was granted, resulting in the dismissal of the claim again. Carr appealed again and in 2017, the Louisiana Court of Appeal, First Circuit reversed the trial court decision and declared that the negligence claim, as now plead, was not barred by the exclusive remedy provision of the Workers' Compensation Act. The court relied on additional facts provided in the amended petition, including information indicating the nature of the threats made to Carr, and Sanderson Farms' knowledge of Webb's history of criminal behavior and "propensity for violence."