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Alabama Supreme Court Reviews Issues Relating To Course And Scope Of Employment, Finds Assault And Battery And Outrage Claims Are Barred By The Exclusivity Provision

An interesting decision concerning the course and scope of employment was recently issued by the Alabama Supreme Court, in Ex parte Lincare Inc. The Plaintiff in the action resigned from her employment with Lincare on June 6, 2014, and submitted a letter of resignation to her supervisor. After she presented her supervisor with the resignation letter, her supervisor confronted her with paperwork, which the Plaintiff forcibly removed from her supervisor’s hand. The Plaintiff alleged the supervisor then physically attacked her, resulting in a fracture of two fingers on the Plaintiff’s left hand, and other injuries to her right thumb and elbow. The Plaintiff was then escorted from the building. 

The Plaintiff asserted a workers compensation claim against Lincare, as well as an assault and battery claim and outrage claim against Lincare and her supervisor. There was no question that the claims against the supervisor were not barred by the exclusivity provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act, as a co-employee claim under Ala. Code 25-5-11. However, Lincare moved to dismiss the tort claims against it, arguing that they were subsumed by the Act. The trial court denied Lincare’s Motion to Dismiss, and Lincare sought a writ of mandamus. 

The Alabama Supreme Court agreed with Lincare, and set aside the trial court’s Order denying its Motion to Dismiss. The Court noted that, although the Plaintiff had already ended her employment, longstanding case law establishes that”‘[T]he employment is not limited by the actual time when the workman reaches the scene of his labor and begins it nor when he ceases, but includes a reasonable time, space, and opportunity before and after while he is at or near his place of employment.” Thompson v. Anserall, Inc., 522 So.2d 284, 286 (Ala.Civ.App.1988). Thus, because the injuries were related to the employment, and occurred while she was still on the premises, the tort claims were barred by the exclusivity provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act, notwithstanding the facts the Plaintiff was not an employee at the time.  

Interestingly, the Court did not distinguish between the assault and battery action and the outrage claim, and found both were barred by the exclusivity provision. This would seem to run contrary to existing case law, establishing that the tort of outrage is not barred by the exclusivity provision. Lowman v. Piedmont Exec. Shirt Mfg. Co., 547 So. 2d 90, 91 (Ala. 1989). No analysis was provided for that finding, so it is unclear why the outrage claim was dismissed. However, it is unlikely the Alabama Supreme Court intended to provide a fundamental change in that law.