NY appeals court says suing coworker for intentional tort allowed

The exclusive legal remedy for a work-related injury is almost always workers’ compensation, but this case explains a narrow exception.

The basic premise of workers’ compensation is that an employee with a work-related injury or illness no longer has the right to sue their employer or another employee for the harm, but in exchange, the employer (or its insurer) will pay compensation for the injury or illness no matter whose fault the harm was.

In New York, there is an exception to this “exclusive remedy” limitation when a coworker committed an intentional tort that caused the harm. If the coemployee acted negligently or carelessly when they caused the injury, workers’ compensation is still the only legal remedy, but when the coworker intentionally harmed the employee, workers’ compensation law does not prevent a lawsuit against the coworker in addition to the workers’ compensation claim.

At Silverman, Silverman & Seligman, P.C., in Schenectady, our lawyers carefully investigate and analyze any incident involving a client’s coworker that caused injury to determine whether a lawsuit directly against that person is appropriate along with the workers’ compensation claim.

Filing suit against the coworker is usually a good idea because in a personal injury lawsuit the claimant may be able to collect some kinds of money damages not available through workers’ compensation such as for pain and suffering, emotional distress or punitive damages (those meant to punish in extreme cases).

What do New York courts say?

In April 2020, the Supreme Court, Appellate Division in New York’s First Department reversed a summary judgment against an injured employee, sending the case back to the trial court to give the plaintiff a chance to present his evidence. In this case, a coworker pulled out a chair when the employee was sitting down. He was hurt in the resulting fall. The court explained that the exclusive remedy provision did not prevent a suit for intentional harm like assault. (This case is Donnelly v. Christian, available on Westlaw at 2020 WL 1879161.)

The New York Court of Appeals – the state’s highest court – explained this exception in Hanford v. Plaza Packaging Corp., noting that once an employee takes intentional action to harm another employee, he is no longer working within the scope of his employment, so workers’ compensation in this circumstance will not prevent a direct lawsuit for the intentional harm against that coworker. (Hanford is available on Westlaw at 811 N.E.2d 30.)

Seek legal advice

The law concerning third-party lawsuits for work-related harm is complex. We at Silverman Silverman & Seligman, P.C. (Silverman Law), suggest that you consult with our attorneys at your earliest opportunity. There is no additional charge for our involvement. We have practiced workers’ compensation law in New York for decades and represented many clients in lawsuits against coworkers. Our experience is advantageous in this complicated legal matter.

In addition, our lawyers can handle the related workers’ compensation claim as well as make an assessment about whether you may also be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). There is no charge for any office or prescheduled phone conference. Call us to discuss your situation at 518-631-4521 or 877-851-4319.

From our office in Schenectady, Silverman Silverman & Seligman, P.C. represents people in the Upstate New York Capital District counties.