From the Desk of Kyle Riley: This case deals with circumstances under which an employee who receives workers’ compensation benefits under Washington’s Industrial Insurance Act can still sue a coworker whose negligence caused their injuries.
Claims Pointer: An injured worker who receives workers’ compensation benefits under Washington’s Industrial Insurance Act normally cannot bring a separate suit against a coworker. However, an injured worker can bring a separate suit against a negligent coworker if that coworker was not acting within the course of their employment at the time the injury occurs. Workers can be outside the course of their employment if they are intoxicated or commuting to or from work.
Paul H. Orris v. The Estate of Matthew Arnold Lingley, in the Court of Appeals of the State of Washington, Division II, 288 P3d 1159, (November 27, 2012).
In August 2007, Paul Orris (“Orris”) was seriously injured in an automobile accident when a truck, driven by a coworker, Matthew Lingley (“Lingley”), crashed. Orris and Lingley were both employees of Caliber Concrete Construction. On the day of the crash, both were working at the same Caliber jobsite. Lingley had driven a Caliber truck to the jobsite that morning. After finishing at the site, Orris decided to ride with Lingley back to Caliber in the Caliber truck. Caliber did not pay employees to drive to and from jobsites. On the way back from the jobsite, Lingley lost control of the truck and crashed. The crash killed Lingley and caused serious injury to Orris. An investigation of the crash determined that Lingley probably fell asleep at the wheel due, in part, to marijuana intoxication. After the accident, Orris applied for, and was allowed, industrial insurance benefits for his injuries. Orris later brought suit against Lingley’s estate claiming that Lingley’s negligence caused the accident. Lingley’s estate moved for summary judgment arguing that the Industrial Insurance Act precluded Orris’ suit. The trial court granted Lingley’s motion and Orris appealed.
The court of appeals reversed and remanded the decision of the trial court. RCW 51.32.010 of the Industrial Insurance Act allows workers’ compensation benefits for workers injured in the course of their employment. These benefits are the sole remedy for an injured worker unless another cause of action is specifically authorized by the Act. The Act does not allow an injured worker to bring a suit against another coworker; however, if an injured party’s coworker was negligent and not acting within the scope of their employment when the accident occurred, then the negligent worker is not immune under the Act from suit by the injured worker. In reversing the decision of the trial court, the court of appeals found that there were issues of fact that Lingley was not acting within his scope of employment when the accident occurred. Specifically, the court recognized that intoxication can remove an employee from the course of their employment if they have become so intoxicated as to abandon their employment. Evidence of Lingley’s intoxication at the time of the accident thereby created an issue of material fact and precluded summary judgment. Further, the court of appeals found Lingley’s use of the Caliber truck at the time of the accident was outside the scope of his employment because he was using the truck to commute to and from work and was not apparently acting in furtherance of Caliber’s business by driving the truck.
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