Curtis v. Lemna – Lawsuit Against Co-Worker Depends on Scope of Employment

Workers’ compensation in Alabama, as in most other states, is intended an exclusive remedy for injuries incurred on the job. However, there are some options for additional compensation under certain conditions.

One of those might be when injuries are caused by a co-worker – but only if that co-worker was acting outside the scope of his or her employment. Some examples would be if he or she was off-the-clock or if the injury was intentional. Otherwise, the co-worker would likely be indemnified under worker compensation laws.

The individual facts of the case are going to weigh heavily on whether the court allows third-party litigation against a co-worker, but it’s important to have the case carefully vetted by an experienced Alabama workers’ compensation lawyer.

The recent case of Curtis v. Lemna is one of the cases in which plaintiff believed a third-party personal injury action against a former co-worker was warranted.

As our Montgomery work injury lawyers note, the injury occurred when the co-worker, operating a golf cart at a game scheduled as part of a sales meeting, lost control of the vehicle and drove it over a retaining wall. His fellow director suffered severe shoulder injuries. Although he collected workers’ compensation in Arizona for those injuries, he also sought damages in a third-party lawsuit in Arkansas against his former co-worker, alleging negligence as the proximate cause of his injuries.

According to court records, the corporation for which the pair were employed was headquartered in Arizona. Directors of different departments, both traveled to Arkansas to meet a large client as part of a sales meeting. All expenses were paid for by the Arizona employer, which had scheduled a golf game as part of that meeting.

Initially, the legal action was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. It was then refiled before the Arkansas workers’ compensation commission, which was asked to consider whether the co-worker was acting within the scope of employment, in which case he would not be subject to the personal injury litigation.

Plaintiff contended the golf cart was not a work vehicle, the pair were not at work and the two were golfing for pleasure, not to further their employer’s interests at the time of the accident. (This runs somewhat contrary to the claims he made in his request for workers’ compensation benefits, which is why workers must be careful in filing for compensation from multiple sources).

The commission denied this assertion, and found the co-worker was acting within the scope of employment, and the golf outing was part of a sales meeting that tangibly furthered the interests of their employer.

This ruling was later upheld by both the appellate court and the Arkansas Supreme Court. The test, the high court noted, was whether the employee was carrying out the employer’s purpose or advancing the employer’s interest – directly or indirectly – at the time of the accident.

Here, the company’s vice president had arranged and coordinated the sales meeting. He’d arranged for food to be served, and arranged for the golf games as well, and indicated the purpose was to review all business operations, financials, sales opportunities and sales plans. The golf game, specifically, was a “team-building exercise.”

It wasn’t technically mandatory, which could have worked in plaintiff’s favor. However, the court in this case held that because the game was part of a meeting that was beneficial to the company, it was therefore a work function and the worker driving the golf cart was “acting within the scope of employment” and therefore immune to tort action.

Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 334.396.9200 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.

Additional Resources:
Curtis v. Lemna, Sept. 18, 2014, Arkansas Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Travelers Property Casualty Co. v. Moore – Company Liability for Workers Off-the-Clock, Sept. 7, 2014, Montgomery Injury Lawyer Blog

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