THE MISSOURI WORKERS’ COMPENSATION ASSAULT DOCTRINE
By: Jill S. Bollwerk
Most folks think that if you are injured while you are working, then the injury is covered by the Missouri workers’ compensation law. However, that general statement is far from the truth. Just because an injury happened at work does not mean that it is automatically covered, and there are many injuries that occur during a person’s work hours that may not be covered. One of those situations may be when a worker is injured by someone who assaults them during work hours.
The Missouri workers’ compensation law covers employees who are injured in an “accident” that is in the course and scope of his or her employment. The term “accident” is defined in the law, and Section 287.120 RSMo. specifically states that the term “accident” shall include “injury or death of the employee caused by the unprovoked violence or assault against the employee by any person.”
However, this doesn’t mean that an unprovoked assault on an employee is automatically covered, and the inquiry does not end there. The employee still must prove that the assault arose out of an in the course and scope of his employment. The courts have developed classes of assaults over the years, but in general, if the assault is unprovoked and neutral in origin, it should be covered by the Missouri Worker’s Compensation law. On the other hand, if the assault is “committed in the course of private quarrels that are purely personal to the participants,” then the assault is NOT COMPENSABLE AND THUS, NOT COVERED BY MISSOURI’S WORKERS’ COMPENSATION LAW.
So, the distinction is whether the assault is due to a neutral reason or a personal reason. As a result, courts look to see if the assault on the employee was based on something of a personal nature. Here are a few examples of cases where the court found that the assault was personal and therefore, not covered as a work accident under the workers’ compensation law:
1. Employee injured when a gas station patron threw acid in his face because he thought that the employee had been kissing his wife. Freeman v. Callow, 525 SW2d 371 (Mo. App. 1975).
2. Employee and her boyfriend had a stormy relationship, and the boyfriend (who did not work with employee) came into work and stabbed her and then abducted her. Scheper v. Hair Repair, Ltd. , 825 SW2d 1 (Mo. App. 1992).
3. Employee had been physically abused by her boyfriend outside of work. She later was shot by her boyfriend while working. (Flowers v. City of Campbell, 384 SW3d 305 (Mo. App. 2012).
Although these assaults were arguably unprovoked assaults on the employee, the courts in these cases, nevertheless, held that the assaults were not compensable workers’ compensation claims because the assaults arose out of purely personal disputes.
If you are injured in an assault at work and the employer or workers’ compensation carrier argues that the assault is not covered, you should clearly speak to a highly experienced Missouri Workers’ compensation attorney to see if, indeed, your case may be one that is subject to the workers’ compensation law. If it is not a compensable workers’ compensation assault, then your attorney should look into whether a civil claim may be brought