Can I Sue My Employer If They Intentionally Injured Me at Work?
The basic rule in Tennessee is that you cannot file a personal injury lawsuit against your employer for an injury you sustained on the job. The reason for this is simple: Such injuries are normally covered by workers’ compensation, which provide “no-fault” medical and wage replacement benefits in such situations. But workers’ compensation does not totally eliminate an employer’s potential liability. There are scenarios where an injured employee may still file a personal injury claim in court and seek damages.
Notably, Tennessee courts have long recognized an exception to workers’ compensation for cases where the employer had an “actual intention to injure” the employee. After all, workers’ compensation is meant to cover accidents. However, if the employee’s injury was the result of a deliberate action, it was by definition not an “accident.”
Federal Court: Failing to Repair Machine Does Not Mean Company Intended to Crush Employee’s Arms
Proving a workplace injury was intentional is often easier said than done. A recent decision from the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, Henry v. CMBB, LLC, illustrates the uphill climb injured workers face in these type of cases. Here, a federal court applying Tennessee law found an injured employee failed to “plausibly allege” their injury was the result of an intentional act.
Here is what happened. The plaintiff in this case worked for a temp agency. She was assigned to work for the defendant, a Tennessee-based manufacturer, as the operator of a 200-ton press. The press contained a safety mechanism called a light curtain. This device is supposed to detect when an operator is inside the press and prevent it from “cycling” at the same time the operator is reaching inside.
On the day in question, another operator was using the press. Some of the defendant’s employees noticed the light curtain was malfunctioning. Rather than take the press out of operation for repairs, however, the defendant assigned a more experienced operator to the unit. The defendant also ordered replacement light curtains.
Unfortunately, the plaintiff was operating the press two weeks later, and the new light curtains had still not arrived. The press cycled while the plaintiff was reaching inside. The machine subsequently “crushed her arms,” according to court records, and had to be amputated.
The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant. The defense argued that the lawsuit was barred by Tennessee workers’ compensation law. A federal judge agreed and dismissed the lawsuit, prompting the plaintiff to appeal to the Sixth Circuit.
But the appeals court agreed with the trial judge’s decision. Even though the defendant knew the press was defective and required a replacement part, the Sixth Circuit said that did not mean the company intended to injure the plaintiff. Even if the employer was “substantially certain” an injury might occur, that is not the same thing as actual intent to injure.
Speak with a Tennessee Personal Injury Attorney Today
If you are injured in any type of accident, it is important to get timely legal advice from an experienced Gatlinburg personal injury lawyer. Contact the offices of Fox Willis Burnette, PLLC, today to schedule a free consultation with a member of our personal injury team.