September 3rd, 2021
workers compensation
ALABAMA COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS FINDS EMPLOYEE NOT ENTITLED TO WORKERS’ COMPENSATION BENEFITS IN CO EMPLOYEE ASSAULT

Aaron Ashcraft obtained a defense verdict from Judge Claude Hundley in Patrick v. Mako Lawn Care, Inc., following a compensability hearing. The Plaintiff appealed the denial of benefits, but the Alabama Court of Civils Appeals recently upheld the trial court’s ruling that an employee injured by a co-worker in an assault at work was not entitled to recover worker’s compensation benefits for his injury. 2021 WL 3234914, (Ala. Civ. App., 2021).

On May 8, 2019, Kevin Patrick (“the employee”) was injured when he was struck in the temple by a co-worker, Landon McNally (“Landon”), during an altercation while on duty for their employer, Mako Lawn Care, Inc. (“the employer”). The altercation occurred following a dispute between the employee, Landon and Landon’s brother, Dylan, over the crews use of the employee’s designated mower. The employee retaliated by using a mower assigned to Landon’s crew. After an argument over the mower, the employee pushed Landon, who responded by striking the employee in the head, which caused the employee’s injury.

At the compensability hearing. Aaron argued, and the trial court agreed, that the employee did not suffer a compensable injury based on Martin v. Sloss-Sheffield Steel & Iron Co., 216 Ala. 500, 113 So. 578 (1927), which held that an active participant or aggressor in a physical altercation cannot recover worker’s compensation benefits for injuries arising from the altercation. The trial court also found that the employee was not entitled to recover because his duties did not include fighting with his co-workers and, thus, his injuries did not arise out of his employment.

On appeal, the employee argued the trial court erred in denying him benefits because his injury was part of a continuous work-related event involving the employer’s mowers. The employee also argued that Martin should not control because it was decided prior to the current, more liberal interpretations of worker’s compensation laws.

The Court of Civil Appeals rejected the employee’s arguments and clarified the rationale in Martin, noting that the Alabama Supreme Court held: “an assault by a fellow employee does not arise out of and in the course of the employment when the assault results from personal anger or ill will between employees following a work-related dispute.” The Court of Civil Appeals found that, even though the dispute between the employee and Landon had been connected to their work, once the employee retaliated against Landon and Landon responded, they were acting out of personal resentment for each other. Because the trial court reached the correct conclusion, and the Court of Civil Appeals was bound by Martin, it affirmed the trial court’s ruling that the employee did not suffer a compensable injury. 

The Court of Civil Appeals opinion is significant because it reaffirms the principle that injuries resulting from altercations at work are typically not compensable because the employee’s motivation is often personal anger or ill will and not within the duties of their employment. Patrick also demonstrates the Court of Civil Appeals adherence to the principle of stare decisis, even with very old decisions like Martin.

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