Workers' Compensation - Willful Killing of Employee - Compensability


Lawler and Cole CPAs, LLC, et al. v. Cole, [Ms. 2170162, July 13, 2018] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. Civ. App. 2018). This unanimous decision by Judge Moore affirms the Marion Circuit Court’s summary judgment in favor of the employee’s surviving spouse for death benefits under the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act.

The employee was shot and killed at her place of employment by a disgruntled former client for whom she had performed tax preparation services. Ms. *7. The employer contended that the employee’s death was not compensable. Ms. *8. The court rejected this contention, holding that

Alabama law has long recognized that an unexpected willful assault upon an employee by another person constitutes an accident for purposes of the Act. See Garrett v. Gadsden Cooperage Co., 229 Ala. 223, 96 So. 188 (1923).

Generally speaking, for the intentional assault upon an employee to be considered an accident arising out of the employment, “the rational mind must be able to trace the resultant [death] to a proximate cause set in motion by the employment, and not by some other agency.” Beverly v. Ruth’s Chris Steak House, 682 So. 2d 1360, 1362 (Ala. Civ. App. 1996). In the context of workers’ compensation cases, the employment may be the “proximate cause” of an accident even if the assault was not foreseeable as a natural and anticipated risk of the employment.

Ms. *9-10.

The court also noted that § 25-5-1(9), Ala. Code 1975, further defines a compensable injury by providing that “[i]njury does not include an injury caused by the act of a third person ... intended to injure the employee because of reasons personal to him or her and not directed against him or her as an employee or because of his or her employment.” Ms. *10.

The court affirmed the summary judgment because “in this case, the undisputed evidence shows that Cooper intentionally assaulted and killed the employee not out of personal ill will, but solely because of their working relationship. Cooper apparently blamed the employee ... for his tax problems and financial difficulties.” Ms. *11.

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